E-waste is a category of hazardous waste that is made up of the electronic devices you have around your home or office. This includes computers, laptops, cell phones, iPods, printers, televisions, stereos, toasters, blenders and microwaves, just to name a few.
As we continually upgrade to the latest technology, most of these old devices are tossed away, and this is causing problems. When electronic waste is left to break down in a landfill, (and about 60% ends up there) elements like mercury or lead, which are found in many of the internal components, can leech into the soil and groundwater.
What Are the Dangers of E-waste?
While e-waste makes up a relatively small portion of the trash in America’s landfills, it’s responsible for approximately 70% of the overall toxic waste in landfills. Let’s take a look at just a few of the electronic waste items that are disposed of regularly and the harmful chemicals they contain.
Prior to 2009 and the explosion of flat screen televisions, TVs were constructed using cathode ray tubes. These tubes are comprised of lead, about four to eight pounds of lead per unit, depending on the size. Even their flat screen counterparts utilize fluorescent lights which are made with highly-toxic mercury.
For the average cellphone user, their phone has a shelf life of about 18 months, which can lead to 500 million cell phones for disposal. Among the hazardous materials used to produce cell phones, cell phone coatings are made of lead, while batteries can include nickel, cadmium, lithium, or lead.
As mentioned above, cathode ray tubes in computer monitors contain lead and fluorescent lamps in screens contain mercury. Additionally, mercury, lead, and cadmium are also present in the circuit boards.
Why is the E-waste Problem is Growing?
As of 2013, the EPA estimated that the U.S generated 3.1 million tons of electronic waste and globally this number is expected to each 93.5 million by 2016. Current estimates show that only 40% of electronic waste is being recycled.
Electronics manufacturers are constantly producing newer, sleeker models with upgraded features, making it enticing to retire your old model and upgrade. In fact, since 2007 there have been 10 iPhone product releases. Add to that new releases of iPods, iPads, MacBooks and technology produced by countless other manufacturers.
But it’s not just the speed at which new and upgraded models are being released, it’s how the products are designed. In many instances they are designed so that it’s nearly impossible, and very costly, to repair your laptop, phone or MP3 player. So a dead battery now means tossing your device and walking out with a newer version.
While these slimmer designs may please consumers, they make the process of e-waste recycling even harder. In the past, devices were dissembled and materials like steel, cooper, glass and aluminum were recycled. But today’s designs make it harder to disassemble and result in less raw materials, significantly lowering the returns from recycling.
How Can E-waste Recycling Be Done Properly?
A growing number of manufacturers and retail outlets have created recycling programs to handle outdated personal electronics and appliances. Most municipalities also accept e-waste materials to be dropped at their site for specialized handling, recycling and disposal. Look into your city’s or county’s waste management or environmental recovery authority to find a location near you.
The e-waste recycling process starts with components being sent through two shredding processes. As this separation occurs, recyclers are also sorting out heavy metals (steel, iron), other metallics (copper, aluminum, brass), glass, and plastics. These materials are then resold to manufacturers for new production.
You can also look into charitable organizations that accept donations of cell phones or other mobile devices and distribute them to those in need, like seniors, soldiers or victims of domestic abuse. You can also sell your used cell phone using Ebay or Gazelle.
If you are moving building, offices or even homes make sure you do not throw e-waste into your roll-off containers with other waste material.