How to Recycle e-Waste Safely
The world as we know it is becoming more and more dependent on electronic gadgets and electric appliances. Many of us would struggle to get through a single day without our smart phone, tablet or laptop. We depend on these devices for communication, sourcing important information such as weather forecasts and advisories, and for getting guided directions to places that we want to visit. And then there are other electronic gadgets, such as cameras, ipods and even electric toothbrushes that we use every day… But what happens to these items at the end of their useful life?
E-waste is basically any discarded electronic device that can potentially harm the environment when it is not disposed of properly. Many of these devices and gadgets contain heavy metals such as lead, lithium, mercury and other hazardous substances that can potentially pollute soil, water and air if discarded in landfills or incinerated. Consequently, it is illegal to simply discard devices that contain these harmful materials with your household trash. This includes items such as TVs, computers, computer/TV monitors, laptops, keyboards, mice, printers, fax machines, scanners, tablets and e-readers, video machines and DVD players, MP3 players, video game consoles, and cable TV or satellite TV boxes, to name a few.
Most of these devices contain hazardous components, starting with the batteries that power them, that are harmful to the environment if not appropriately discarded. The toxic heavy metals that these components contain can be emitted into the atmosphere when incinerated, or they can leach out of landfills to pollute the surrounding soil, as well as surface and underground water sources, where they can negatively impact aquatic life and contaminate drinking water supplies.
Firstly, you need to check whether your town or city has an e-waste recycling facility where you can drop off your unwanted electronic gadgets, or a pickup service. If they do, check whether they are e-Steward certified — i.e. they are committed to recycling your e-waste ethically and responsibly rather than sending it off to some developing country who lack the facilities and expertise to do so safely. If not, you can drop off your e-waste at any Staples store for recycling, or search for an e-Stewards certified outfit using their online ‘find a recycler’ tool.
Many e-waste recyclers will not take batteries, so these may need to be removed and recycled separately. Call2Recycle is a handy online tool that will help you find a battery recycler or drop off point near you. You can also encourage your workplace to subscribe to a battery recycling service, such as offered by Call2Recycle and Battery Solutions, who provide several different packages that allow businesses and corporates to collect used batteries from their staff, which are then safely shipped back to the recycler in a sealed container for recycling.
Benefits of recycling e-waste & batteries
Recycling e-waste and batteries not only reduces the amount of waste sent to a landfill, it keeps toxic materials that are harmful to the environment and human health out of landfills, and also reduces pressure on natural resources. According to Earth 911, at least 70% of the average electronic gadget can be recovered and recycled, primarily because they are made from valuable materials such as gold, silver, copper, aluminum, steel and plastic that can be recovered and reused. Salvaging these valuable materials not only reduces the cost of purchasing new raw materials, it also reduces the amount of energy used to produce materials such as plastic, and/or the environmental degradation associated with mining these precious metals.
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