e-Recycling: Why we must and how we can

Andrew Del Prado argues that society's attitude to recycling electronic gadgets is lagging far behind our desire to create the technology in the first place, and tells the Ecologist how his organisation is trying to combat this trend.....

The fast progress of the market of electronics comes with the proliferation of electronic waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency in their 2009 Facts and Figures on Municipal Solid Waste, about 82.3% of electronic waste in the US was thrown away in landfills or sent to incinerators. Only about 17.7% went to refurbishment facilities. This was far lower than the reported recycling rate of 33.8% for the overall municipal waste stream.

The report focuses on municipal solid waste; however, it also includes electronic waste produced by consumers and businesses, with the exclusion of those that produce industrial and hazardous waste. According to the report, about 55-65% of the total waste produced was from private residences. Obviously, many householders did not think twice about discarding gadgets or at least did not know the importance of keeping electronic gadgets out of landfills.

Why do we try to keep electronic waste out of landfills?

Why We Need to e-Recycle

The most obvious reason to recycle is toxins. Computer gadgets usually have toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, beryllium, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics and metals. When electronics get thrown into landfill and break down it is inevitable that some of these toxins will leach into the soil, and even into the groundwater.

Sure, landfill linings could prevent leaching but a landfill lining will fail eventually, albeit maybe after a hundred years. The only safe way to stop chemicals from leaching is to not bury the source in the first place, so that in the future, we will not have to deal with the consequences of irresponsible and unsuitable disposal.

Landfills house different kinds of waste. Television sets, computers, laptops, printers, tablets, cell phones and many other gadgets use up a lot of room in landfills that could alternativley be used for biodegradable waste. Many states are now running out of space in their landfills, and cannot build new ones because of limited financial budgets.

In many counties, electronic waste is sent to incinerators (typically, waste-to-energy incinerators), instead of landfills. This is by no means a better method of disposal as it creates a serious public health concern; toxic gases like dioxins escape into the air when plastics containing halogenated flame retardants are burned.

Another reason for not discarding gadgets into the trash bin is that materials contained within them can be recycled. We can still use the metal components during the manufacturing of 'new' electronics. Obviously, it would be hugely wasteful and totally illogical to simply discard gadgets when they contain reuseable, non-renewable materials.

Increasing the Recycling Numbers

Every state in the U.S. has laws on recycling, yet we must continue to seek new ideas on how to inspire citizens to recycle electronics. This responsibility should be taken on in large part by those companies who manufacture the electronic products in the first place. These manufacturers can do more for the environment than simply taking back and recycling old smartphones, laptops and tablet computers. Sadly, too many companies are just content to provide drop-off booths for their consumers.

Even more problematic is the fact that most manufacturers' recycling efforts are only present in states that strongly mandate take-back programs like Washington, Minnesota, and Oregon. Fortunately, there a handful of companies that have taken the initiative and developed collection programs in states that have weak or nonexistent laws on electronic recycling. There is still a  long way to go however, and States should pass strong laws or strengthen their current ones so that manufacturers will be more responsible than ever. After all, an ethos of recycling should be present right at the beginning of the manufacturing process, not just post-production.

Recycling for Our Future

It may be the responsibility of manufacturing companies to promote electronic recycling since they are the main source of electronic waste; no manufactured gadget, no e-waste. However, we must remind ourselves that it is our responsibility as consumers to recycle our gadgets responsibly once they get broken or too old to use. This is why companies like eCycleBest exist.

Most people do not recycle their gadgets because they claim they cannot find the time. At eCycleBest, time is as valuable as the environment. The best way to recycle your gadgets is by selling them to green refurbishment sites like eCycleBest, where old and/or broken gadgets are repaired or broken down into reusable parts for selling. This way, everything is back on the market and nothing will go to landfills. There won't even be a need to mine resources for manufacturing when we can just reuse the elements from the old phones, tablets and laptops.

Our generation is highly resourceful in its creation and use of electronic technology. However, our environment pays the price for this ingenuity and if we don't want a bleak future for our kids and our kids' kids, we have to do our best to take care of our only planet; one effective way is to RECYCLE & REUSE.

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