Most of us have been in the situation where we purchase a new piece of electronic – a new stereo, laptop or desktop computer, television sets, cell phones, etc. and now we have to dispose of the old one. The only problem is this – state and/or local regulations prohibit placing it in disposable garbage and/or in the items for recycle. Old electronics are most difficult to get rid of because these items sometimes contain parts and materials made from hazardous metals and/or chemical compounds that can be harmful to the environment. Most state and local jurisdictions have regulations that keep such items out of landfills, dumps or other disposal sites.
In the US most states and cities sponsor electronic recycling programs that collect old electronics. The reusable parts are separated and recycled as valuable commodities to help save natural resources and the environment simultaneously. The hazardous materials are safely disposed of (mostly in landfills) to minimize any chance of human contact. However, this is hardly the case for other parts of the world. According to the United Nation’s affiliated Global E-Waste Monitor, 54 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated around the world in 2019. The same organization also noted that this 54 metric tons contained recyclable materials worth over $60 billion. Simply put – failure to recycle electronics is leaving “monies on the table”.
Many US states including Maryland and Connecticut actually provide consumers convenient and free opportunities to recycle computers, printers, televisions and computer monitors. These programs help to conserve natural resources and provide options for old electronics to be deposited in a controlled manner, so they do not end up polluting the air and waterways – thus, contributing to poisoning the environment. A report from the US environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that every one million laptop recycled saves enough energy – the equivalent of the electricity used by approximately 3,500 homes in one year. Every one million cell phones recycled resulted in the recovery of 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver; 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium.
In addition to state or locally sponsored recycle programs, several electronics manufacturers and re-sellers such as Hewlett Packard, Xerox, Staples, Best Buy, Sony and The LG Group participate or sponsor electronic recycling programs. They partner with a company called the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) in an annual challenge program to boost donation of recyclable items.
A great deal of effort is being made, but it is simply not enough. We are not keeping up with the level of innovation and speed of invention. The life cycle of each piece of electronics shortens every year. Thus, the challenge of keeping up becomes greater each day.
As part of our public service mission, a radio station I managed partnered with a local recycling company to hold a “recycle day”. We asked listeners to bring their old electronics to the station and just dump it in our parking lot. In an 8-hour window, five tons of used electronics was dumped in our parking lot. The take-away from this project was the fact that in the digital age, we accumulate and keep old electronics that is no longer usable, but we keep it because many of our local municipalities are slow to provide a seamless way to get rid of it.
PS. A word of advice from your friends at Kingston12 Media – Make the effort to check with your local and/or state government to see what options for electronics disposal are available in your community. Remember to make sure all personal or business information are deleted from all electronic devices prior it leaving your position via donation and/or disposal. Also, remember to remove all batteries so that they can be recycled separately.