Our E-Waste Dilemma - How to Responsibly Dispose of Old Electronics


by Sandra J. Carroll - Date: 2007-03-23 - Word Count: 847 Share This!

There is no quick and easy answer to the question of what to do with all of our throw-away electronics, but one thing is for sure - it is an ever-growing issue and we all need to act responsibly with the disposal of our E-waste.

According to Stateline.org an online publication and independent element of the Pew Research Center: There is no precise estimate of how much E-waste is piling up in the nation's landfills, but the National Safety Council estimates that 500 million defunct computers and monitors will be discarded by 2007. California's environmental protection agency estimates 6 million monitors are stacked in state homes and offices waiting to be tossed.

We cannot just toss these items into the garbage and forget about them, and here is why. All of our electronic components contain varying levels of toxic substances, such as mercury, lead and polyvinyl chloride, just to name a few, which will leach out into our groundwater, if they end up in landfills.

The electronic age is here to stay, so what are we to do with the inevitable, and growing collection of broken or out-dated equipment?

Federal and State environmental laws are being written and revised to include guidelines for correct disposal of electronic equipment that is at or near the end of its useful life. In California, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (SB20 / SB50) establishes a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain electronic wastes. The California Integrated Waste Management Board has adopted regulations to implement portions of the statute.

~ Key elements of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act include:

~ Reduction in hazardous substances used in certain electronic products sold in California.

~ Collection of an electronic waste recycling fee at the point of sale of certain products.

~ Distribution and recovery of recycling payments to qualified entities covering the cost of electronic waste collection and recycling.

~ Directive to recommend environmentally preferred purchasing criteria for state agency purchases of certain electronic equipment.

For the individual and small business consumer this program is intended to enhance the availability of convenient recycling options so that products containing toxic compounds are not disposed of inappropriately.

The dilemma arises as the richer countries pass legislation regulating the disposal of E-waste, and the "recycling" business turns out to be more of an "export" business to third-world countries. An ABC News 20/20 segment on Jan 1, 2006, reported that 80% of scrap electronics from the US ends up offshore, where workers extract the few desirable parts and leave the rest in mountains of plastic and twisted parts to pollute the environment. There are also issues of worker safety in these so-called recycling plants. Employee safety concerns are substandard, and in many cases, workers are unaware of the hazards they are being exposed to.

So, just what is the right thing to do, you ask.

Reduce -
Be responsible about your purchases. Maybe you can up-grade your computer, rather than toss it and buy a new one. Purchase from responsible manufacturers. Dell, HP and Apple offer free take back and recycling programs.

Reuse -
Donate equipment that is still functioning to non-profit organizations, schools or churches.

Recycle -
Items that cannot be repaired can be recycled through reputable companies.

Before you donate, or recycle your PC or cell phone be sure to clear the memory of any personal data. Simply deleting the files from your desktop does not clear the hard drive. There are software programs to overwrite the disk, you can reformat the hard drive and re-install the operating system, or the more drastic route is to physically destroy the hard drive by removing it from the housing unit and smashing it with a hammer.

E-waste is the fastest growing part of municipal waste streams, and rising almost three times faster than the overall waste stream, according to the EPA. We, the purchasing public, need to not only be aware of the consequences of our consumer driven culture, but be responsible for our individual contribution to the problem, and be willing to step up to the plate to do the right thing.

The following is a partial list of items that should NOT go into the garbage can:

Fluorescent lamps & bulbs, including CFLs (compact fluorescent lights)

ALL batteries

Computer monitors and TV sets

Computer hard drive

Printers & Fax Machines

Cell phones

VCRs

Radios

Microwaves

Cordless phones

Telephone answering machines

Some communities offer Hazardous Waste Recycling events once or twice a year, which makes the disposal of these items easy and safe. Call your city offices or go online and research the donation, recycling or disposal options for your area. Also, visit your State's website for information about laws and regulations that may apply to you and your business.

For those of you with an entrepreneurial spirit, this may look like an opportunity - to develop solutions that are earth-friendly and people-friendly. We need convenient and safe disposal for even the laziest of us consumers.

While this is a vast and complex issue, if each one of us makes the effort to be as educated as possible, understand the power of our purchasing choices, one by one we do have enormous impact. Visit the web sites below for more in depth information and resources for the proper disposal of your E-waste.


Related Tags: computers, computer recycling, computer disposal, e-waste, electronic waste, electronic waste recycling

Resources

California Integrated Waste Management Board http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/Electronics/

The Computer Take Back Campaign http://www.computertakeback.com

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