Electronic Waste And What To Do About It

This post is courtesy of Gary Hillery of GreenPathCompany, a previous guest on Natural Moms Talk Radio.


Here’s a Jeopardy question for you… What weighs 200 million tons? The answer: the amount of electronic waste that goes into our landfills every year. Computers, monitors, cell phones, DVD players, copy machines, TV sets… you get the picture.

Most, if not all of this electronic waste, contains hazardous chemicals like mercury, lead and chromium that end up leaching into our ground water from landfills or being emitted into the air from incinerators causing a GROWING environmental and health crisis. This problem is fueled by the fast paced growth of new technology that renders electronic products obsolete long before their normal lifecycle ends and the fact that most people do not know how to properly dispose of these types of products. In fact, most don’t know that these products can be recycled and reused.

But discarded electronics can be properly disposed of or recycled and it is easier than most people think.  Tons of companies have programs that allow you to donate usable electronics to churches and schools, and other companies will recycle usable components, raw materials and materials like plastics, glass and aluminum.  Many cities also have e-waste pick up as part of their hazardous waste pick-up programs.

You can even take advantage of tax breaks when you donate your unwanted electronics.  The 21st Century Classrooms Act for Private Technology Investment allows large companies to donate used equipment to public and private schools for tax breaks and donations to nonprofits can be written off.  You will need to check with each nonprofit organization regarding its particular documentation for your tax returns.

The environmental benefit to donating or recycling used electronics goes far beyond just keeping harmful chemicals out of our landfills; it also helps conserve our precious natural resources.  It takes approximately 530 pounds of fossil fuel, 50 pounds of chemicals and 416 gallons of water to produce one desktop computer.  Recycling electronic components can help preserve these resources and can also help use far less energy than the production of new components.  Mining of aluminum, for example, uses 20 times the amount of energy it takes to recycle the same amount of aluminum from electronic components.  Last year alone, electronics recyclers recovered over 100 million pounds of materials like aluminum, steel, glass and plastic which was reused.

Now that we know the benefits of e-cycling let’s, figure out how to find an e-cycler in your area.  You can start with the Electronic Industry Alliance . This site has an easy to use map that allows you to search for e-cycling by state and offers you several other helpful links to guide you through the process.  You can also check with your city government to see if it offers e-cycling as part of its hazardous waste programs or with Goodwill industries . There are several additional organizations you can check that offer training programs that teach students and individuals how to refurbish used electronics which are then donated to local schools:

Students Recycling Used Technology (StRUT)

Learning and Information Networking for Community via Technology (LINCT)

Reuse Development Organization (ReDO)

Even Sam’s Club has an interesting program that runs in cooperation with N.E.W. Customer Service Companies, Inc. Members of the organization who want to recycle computers, LCD monitors, printers, camcorders, digital cameras and MP3 players, can log onto the program’s website and print a FREE shipping label to have the products mailed to N.E.W. Those members will receive a Sam’s Gift Card for the value of the donated item.  All donated items are either refurbished or disassembled and the parts are used to rebuild electronics or recycled into raw material and reused.

The final pieces to this recycle cycle are personal data security and rethinking your purchasing habits.  You need to protect all your personal data contained on computer hard drives and cell phones.  Please make sure to remove ALL stored phone numbers and call logs from your cell phone and you may even want to remove the SIM card to insure protection.  Cleaning up your computer may prove a little more difficult but is equally important.  If you are unsure of how to do this you can find FREE hard-drive erasers through your favorite search engine. Type in “free hard-drive eraser cleaners.”

Although there are no laws governing the use of hazardous materials in electronics equipment you can help to encourage manufacturers to move in a “greener” direction by considering the following when buying your next piece of equipment:

  1. Does the manufacturer use recycled materials in their products?
  2. Are the products designed for easy upgrades and disassembly?
  3. Does the manufacturer offer a lease or “take back” program?
  4. Does the manufacturer use minimal toxic materials in their equipment?
  5. Does the manufacturer use minimal or recyclable packaging?

The age of electronics is upon us and with the constant introduction of new technology, system upgrades and fancy new gadgets coming at us daily we need to be more conscious of what we do with our e-waste. Take the time to do the right thing, remember one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and you may be surprised at who would love to have your “old” computer.

Gary Hillery is the owner of The Green Path Company.  He is an advocate for simple green living and is dedicated to helping build a greener path to the future. He writes for his blog and is a guest blogger for several other sites and his Simple Green Living Tips are used by several online groups like Mommy Perks, Arizona Mamas and Vegan Family Living.

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