E-waste Recycling 101: How to Get Rid of Old Electronics
Do you ever open that tech drawer in your room and realize the amount of potentially toxic e-waste you’re holding on to?
From those pocket-sized smartphones to your TV and laptop, every electronic device is made up of hazardous materials that harm the ecosystem if not disposed of carefully.
While electronics have simplified our way of living, a critical problem with these miraculous gadgets (especially smartphones) is that they are demoted to the ‘old & obsolete’ category as soon as an upgraded version enters the market.
According to EPA, more than 350,000 phones are thrown away every day, which estimates to more than 152 million phones every year.
The world is becoming tech-oriented, and so is our waste stream. Simply tossing away old electronics in the trash is something we cannot afford now.
This guide will help you understand the nitty-gritty of e-waste recycling and how can you reduce your e-waste footprint. Let’s dive in!
What is E-waste?
Also known as e-scrap, end-of-life (EOL) electronics, or electronics waste, the term basically applies to electronic items that have reached the end of their useful life and are discarded as waste.
It covers a wide range of electronics; however, the common types of equipment associated with e-waste include cellphones, tablets, laptops, TV, fax machines, computers, charging cables, printer/scanner, video game console, MP3 player, and more.
The Chemistry of E-waste
No, this isn’t a back-to-school chemistry session. However, you do need to understand the primary components of your electronics to recycle them correctly.
Any electronic device is composed of both toxic and reusable substances. The toxic components need to be disposed of with caution. They can be dangerous when exposed to the atmosphere or leached into the soil and water.
The reusable electronic components, on the other hand, include valuable and rare earth minerals that can be reused later in the manufacturing process.
For instance, Apple claims to use 100% recycled aluminum in the new MacBook Air and Mac mini according to its latest environment report.
For ease of reference and clarity, we have classified these e-waste components into three categories below:
Rare (and Reusable)
Brominated Flame retardants
Note that this is not a comprehensive list. There can be additional components in an electronic item that are not mentioned in the table.
Economist or Environmentalist: Is Your E-waste in the Right Hands?
Sadly, we don’t live in an altruistic world, where handing over old electronics to a recycler would get the work done. You need to dig a little deeper before dropping off all the electronic junk.
Some recyclers cut corners and export e-waste to developing countries, in Asia and Africa, where the workers operate on toxic waste in unethical recycling facilities with minimal environmental regulations.
Smashing open the device to reclaim valuable metals, like aluminum and gold, while exposing themselves and the surrounding environment to toxic elements is a common yet hazardous practice over there.
To meet the problem head-on and take countermeasures against this environmentally damaging activity, non-profit organizations like Basal Action Network (BAN) and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI) have stepped up. Both organizations offer certification programs to recyclers that comply with the industry recycling standards.
Before Handing Over
Follow these four tips before giving away your electronics for recycling:
- Wipe off all the personal data from your cellphone, laptop, tablet, and computer. You wouldn’t want your personal information to be exposed to an “inquisitive” recycler. Follow this helpful guide on clearing data from your devices.
- If the glass of a cellphone, TV, or monitor is broken or damaged, pack it in a separate box.
- In case a chemical or any fluid is leaking from an electronic device, place it in a sturdy box with newspaper or some other material to soak up the spill.
- Remove batteries, if any, from the device as they are recycled separately.
Electronic Recycling and Donation Options
#1 Bring it to an E-waste Recycling Center Near You
There are a bunch of recycling programs to help you find a recycler or the nearest drop-off location online. These recycling initiatives will help you locate the nearest center in a matter of few clicks:
- Earth911 offers one of the largest databases with more than 100,000 listings on recyclers based in North America.
- RecycleNation not only helps you find a recycling location but also categorizes the list into four options: drop-off recycling program, curbside collection, mail-back recycling, and pick up services.
- Greener Gadgets is an excellent initiative that helps you calculate the energy consumption of your device and how to find a certified eCycling location to recycle it.
- TerraCycle offers a points program where you can redeem the earned recycling points by donating to an organization you like.
- Call2Recycle is an extensive resource to find drop-offs to recycle old batteries primarily and cellphones as well. It is one of the largest battery recycling programs with 25 years of battery stewardship.
#2 Donate it for a Good Cause
There are a bunch of charitable organizations that give new life to your old electronics.
However, only donate items that are old but in working condition. Chances are your non-functional electronic item might end up in a landfill.
One of the best perks about these charitable contributions is that you can claim tax deductions for every donation you make.
Check out some of the popular organizations that give a second life to your old and new electronics:
- World Computer Exchange accepts computers and some other gears and uses them to build labs in schools and colleges in the under-developed countries.
- Students Recycling Used Technology (StRUT) refurbishes old computers, monitors, and other tech accessories to deploy them in schools lacking technology equipment. The students involved in StRUT brush up their skills while getting the donated computers up and running.
- Donation Town offers a nationwide list of charities willing to schedule a free pickup. You can easily find a charity that accepts electronics on this pick-up directory.
- Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts cell phone donations and, with its help, sends calling cards to military servicemen. The program helps military personnel and veterans connect with their family members.
- eBay for Charity allows you to put up a listing of your electronic item, and choose your favorite charity that supports your cause to donate a portion of your proceeds.
#3 Return it to the Manufacturer or Retailer
Many electronics manufacturers and retailers are more than willing to recycle your used item and use the extracted materials for future use.
Check out this recycling list by EPA where you can easily find a recycling company based on the device type and company name.
Reduce Before Recycle
Diverting e-waste from landfill is a good start, however, to truly beat the growing waste stream, you need to hit the knockout punch. Reflect upon your consumption pattern and figure out whether you need that new electronic gadget out of need or desire.
Shopping secondhand electronics, whenever possible, is an efficacious step to protect the planet. Also, double-check if the old item can be refurbished or repaired. There’s a fine line between being obsolete and old.
Let’s hear from you now! How do you tackle e-waste? Do you have any recycling tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below.