Green Technology
10 Really Good Reasons to Recycle Your Old Electronics
A rewards program, a billion-pound challenge and more efficient product manufacturing are just a few compelling reasons to recycle that unused computer, TV or other gadget.
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April 17, 2012 by Steven Castle

No more excuses for stockpiling those old electronics on basement and garage shelves—or worse, burying them in your garbage bin and hoping the trash man doesn’t notice.

Here are 10 very compelling reasons to recycle your old and unwanted electronics:

1. More People Are Doing It

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the consumer electronics industry has embraced electronics recycling—also known as ecycling. In its First Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative, the trade organization touts a 53 percent increase in the amount of electronic waste collected by the eCycling Leadership Initiative participants in the United States, from 300 million pounds in 2010 to 460 million pounds in 2011.

2. More Collection Sites Are Available

The CEA report also tallies a 50 percent increase in the amount of collection sites, from 5,000 in 2010 to nearly 7,500 today. Consumers can go to the CEA’s Greener Gadgets site to find electronics recycling drop off locations near them. And you can find recyclers who adhere to responsible e-Stewards recycling codes here. (Also see #6.)

3. Join the “Billion Pound Challenge”

The CEA says its goal is still to collect 1 billion pounds in recycled electronics waste in 2016, enough to fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, in 2010 in the United States, we got rid of 2.4 million tons of e-waste—equaling about 4.8 billion pounds—yet only about 27 percent of that was recycled (649,000 tons), and only 19 percent of 384 million devices disposed of were recycled.

4. Get Rewarded

The CEA has formed a partnership with Recyclebank, an online rewards site that awards points toward purchases of goods and services, for recycling electronics through the GreenerGadgets.org recycling tool. GreenerGadgets.org also provides a widget for managers of other websites to use the zip code locator on their websites at no charge.

5. Dumping Electronics in Landfills is Bad, Bad, Bad

According to recycler Ewaste Systems, electronic waste represents 2 percent of U.S. trash in landfills, but it equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste. Hazardous materials contained in electronics include lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants, to name just a few, that can find their way into the environment and harm humans and wildlife. Cadmium is listed as a human carcinogen that causes lung and liver damage.

6. More Electronics are Being Disposed of Responsibly

The CEA and MRM (Electronics Manufacturers Recycling Management Company), a joint venture between Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Vizio, report that 96 percent and 97 percent of the electronics recycled by the eCycling Leadership Initiative participants and MRM, respectively, are recycled responsibly by third-party recyclers certified by either e-Stewards or R2. Companies certified by these organizations must adhere to strict standards so that electronic waste is not disassembled and disposed of improperly and dangerously. Much electronic waste is shipped to underdeveloped nations and disassembled by workers and children and the plastics burned in pits, exposing them and the environment to toxins from dangerous materials like cadmium, lead and mercury.

Ecycling Leadership Initiative participants include Acer, Apple. Audiovox, Best Buy, Dell, Funai, Hitachi, HP, Imation, Mitsubishi, Nintendo, Lenovo, Orion, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony Toshiba.

Best Buy’s Parker Brugge says that 100 percent of the e-waste collected by its ecycling program is recycled by certified companies. MRM President David Thompson says that MRM third-party recyclers that aren’t yet certified are told they have three months to achieve their certifications.

7. eCycling Recovers Materials to Be Reused More Efficiently

Recycling metals from e‐waste uses a fraction of the energy needed to mine new metals. Recycling 1 million cell phones can recover 50 pounds of gold, 550 pounds of silver, 20 pounds of palladium and 20,000 pounds of copper, according to the EPA. A ton of used cell phones (6,000 phones) yields $15,000 in precious metals.

By contrast, 81 percent of a desktop computer’s energy use is in making the computer, not using it. To manufacture one computer and monitor, it takes 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water.

“This is a significant resource reuse issue,” states Walter Alcorn, the CEA’s vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability. “More metals can be collected, and less have to be refined [for use in new products].”

“Precious metals, glass and all kinds of things in these products can be re-used,” says Best Buy’s Brugge.

8. Our E-Waste is Only Going to Grow

Our love affair with electronics is not going away. According to the CEA, the average U.S. home has 25 electronics products. And that number looks to grow. E‐waste shows a higher growth rate than any other category of municipal waste, says the EPA. The fastest growing areas of potential e-waste appear to be smartphones, iPhones, tablets and computers, according to facts compiled by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Generations of smartphones and tablets are becoming obsolete quickly.

9. Ecycling is Becoming the Law

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, 17 states have banned electronics from being disposed of in landfills, and more may be on the way. Twenty-five states have passed some sort of e-waste recycling laws. And several states require manufacturers to establish take-back plans or pay for the recycling. You can see information on state ecycling laws here and a state-by-state comparison chart here.

10. We Can Do Better

Clearly, not enough of our electronics are being recycled, and recycled properly. Too many electronics are still being exported and dangerously disassembled. We all can do more to ensure they are recycled and their materials reused, so they don’t contaminate the environment and cause health hazards. The Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition has continually called for better recycling efforts and disclosures from top consumer electronics companies.

 

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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