Guest post by Marianne Pierce
Why is e-waste recycling important? Have you recently purchased a new phone or another electronic device? Or maybe you got an electric device. Perhaps a toaster or window air conditioner? What did you do with the old items that these purchases replaced?
And what about that old VCR and broken remote control airplane that have been taking up space in your basement forever? Do you want to safely dispose of them?
Questions like these are prevalent among electronics users and underscore a growing global concern: The problem of e-waste.
So, let’s dig in. In this post, we’ll provide an overview of electronic waste recycling along with some practical suggestions on how best to handle the process in your own personal life.
Most of us have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality that makes us toss old electronics into the trash without a second thought. But this is seriously damaging the planet and its inhabitants. That being said, it’s not always straightforward to unravel the electronic recycling process. Figuring out how to safely dispose of old electronic items can take some effort.
Electronic waste recycling is a multi-faceted issue that involves a variety of processes and stakeholders. And, it’s not usually quite as simple as just putting your milk jug in the blue bin. The issue may feel overwhelming to wade into, but with 40 million tons of electronic waste being produced every year and comprising 70% of the planet’s toxic waste, it’s not something we can ignore.
What Is Electronic Waste?
Electronic waste (also known as e-waste or e-scraps) refers to electronic devices that are no longer needed or wanted. Such devices may be obsolete, broken, surplus, or simply out of fashion.
While digital devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers are prevalent in the public mind, there are also a plethora of other categories of electronic waste—including large items like refrigerators and washing machines. Examples of electronic waste range from cell phones to microwaves, medical devices, cameras, solar panels, televisions, appliances, electric tools, batteries, and much much more.
How Do I Know If An Item I Want To Dispose Of Is Considered E-Waste?
If you’re not certain whether or not a particular item is classified as e-waste, many states and municipalities have dedicated e-waste programs with easily accessible websites or phone numbers. Likewise, you could reach out to a private e-waste organization or facility (for-profit or not-for-profit) or contact IT support services. Services such as these can also provide localized guidance on how to recycle specific types of e-waste.
Why Is Electronic Waste A Problem?
Aside from taking up space in your home and being unsightly, there are many ethical, environmental, and health issues associated with electronic waste. Here’s a brief overview:
Electronic waste is not biodegradable and contains toxic materials such as heavy metals, harmful chemicals, and dangerous pollutants. The mismanagement of electronic waste in landfills and incinerators results in the release of these destructive elements into the environment—our air, soil, and water. Over time, they build up in food chains, cause damage to ecosystems, and also impact human health.
Additionally, many of the resources used in electronics, such as gold, platinum, cobalt, and more, are rare and important earth elements that are being depleted and dumped at alarming rates.
In the US, strict rules regulate the extraction of resources and the safety of work environments. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many places around the globe. Workers, including children, are too often exposed to unsafe materials and conditions in the pursuit of materials used to fuel electronic consumerism. When electronic waste is properly reused and recycled, these types of humanitarian issues can be addressed and reduced more effectively.
When toxic materials from electronic waste find their way into the air and food chain, they can have major health impacts. Young children and seniors are particularly at risk of brain, heart, internal organ, and skeletal system damage. Proper recycling procedures can drastically reduce such risks and greatly improve the quality of life of the elderly and vulnerable.
Steps For Recycling Your Personal E-Waste
You’ve gathered the electronic items you wish to recycle. But what do you do now? Consider the following options:
1 / Repair
Before disposing of an electronic item, consider whether or not it could be repaired. If replacing or fixing a part is all it would take to breathe new life into an electronic device, it would be well worth the investment!
2 / Resell Or Donate
You may be finished with an item, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t have value for others. Consider how you could extend the lives of electronics by selling them or donating them to places where they’d be well used.
3 / Recycle Through A Dedicated Program
If repairing, reselling, or donating an item isn’t feasible, research the electronic waste recycling programs that exist in your community. Whether government-initiated or private, there’s a good chance some sort of electronic recycling facility is located near you. If not, lobby your local changemakers to get one started!
<<Related: Can you recycle HEPA filters?>>
How Does The E-Waste Recycling Process Work?
E-waste recycling involves a number of steps. Though they’ll look different for different products, they generally include the following:
Although electronic waste recycling isn’t always a simple or transparent process, it’s a crucial task that must not be ignored. By extending the life of your electronic items and educating yourself about the electronic waste recycling options in your community, you can be an essential part of the solution!
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