Electronic waste. Pollution and toxic waste are problems for everybody nowadays. With the wide variety of available technology in the 21st century, consumers, electronic designers, and environmental planners alike need to take a closer look at what happens to all of our “tech tools” at the end of their lives.
EPA Releases New Guidelines on Proper e-Waste Recycling
Did you know that when 1 million desktop computers are recycled, we prevent the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the yearly emissions of more than 17,000 passenger cars? The benefits of e-waste recycling are clear: besides reducing greenhouse gases, landfill life spans are extended, valuable materials are recovered and virgin resources are conserved.
And now we can breathe a little easier, thanks to a set of guidelines recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with industry stakeholders, to promote more responsible e-waste recycling practices, public health practices and worker safety for e-waste recyclers.
The guidelines offer 13 specific principles to ensure that e-waste recyclers apply safe, environmentally appropriate practices that are nationally and internationally recognized. One especially important component of the guidelines is due diligence for proper materials management - up and down the recycling chain - including e-waste that's exported to other countries.
For details on the "Responsible Recycling (R2) Practices for Use in Accredited Certification Programs for Electronics Recyclers", visit the EPA's site.
City Ordinance Bans Household E-Waste. The City of Fort Collins is a city that cares for its community's public health and natural environment. Disposing of electronic waste in the trash is prohibited. Electronics contain substantial amounts of toxic materials that leach out of the machines and into the soil and water when they are buried in a landfill. Click here to read the ordinance.
"E-Waste - Not for Landfills" educational materials
- Informational brochure (8.5 x 11, double-sided, tri-fold) [500k pdf]
- Campaign poster (11x17) [1.08 mb jpg]
What is e-waste?
Electronic waste (or e-waste) is electronic equipment that is obsolete, or no longer working and includes:
- Televisions and monitors
- Printers, scanners, and fax machines
- Stereo equipment
- VCRs, DVD players
- Video cameras
- Cell / wireless phones
- Fax and copy machines
- Video game consoles
E-waste does NOT include toasters, blenders or other small appliances, but these don’t belong in the landfills either. Look for local community businesses or organizations that will accept these for repair, or as donations. Small appliances containing significant amounts of metal are often recycle (and sometimes worth a little money). Visit the City's Recycling Directory for more information about "hard-to-recycle" items such as small appliances.
Why is e-waste bad for the environment?
- Electronic equipment contains hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants.
- Glass monitors and television screens contain about 4 lbs. of lead!
- Circuit boards contain heavy metals that leach out into the environment and affect our public health and natural resources, but when recycled, can help manufacture new electronics.
- 50 million computers and monitors and 130 million cell phones are thrown away each year in the United States. That’s a lot of equipment!
The issue is such a concern to policy makers, environmental planners and citizens that at least four states across the country have adopted ordinances that ban the disposal of electronics and more than 20 other states are considering bans. Fort Collins is among only a handful of municipalities in the country to implement a local e-waste ban.
What do you do with your e-waste?
Take it back. Many companies have programs that will accept your end-of-life equipment. If you have a Dell, HP, Apple, Gateway or Toshiba system, contact their customer service line or website to find out more. Systems and parts are reused or recycled to keep the products out of the waste stream.
Donate it. Donate gently used equipment to non-profits that accept equipment for their own use or pass it on to their clients and customers. Before donating equipment consider wiping personal information from your hard drive or cell phone to ensure your privacy. Visit the Dell website for useful summaries about personal data security and more information about wiping software (some of which is available at no cost, such as "DBAN").
Recycle it. Contact a local electronics recycler. We are lucky to have quite a few local providers of e-waste recycling, including the Larimer County Recycling Center. They will take your end-of-life items and dismantle them, saving valuable materials and resources, and protecting our environment from dangerous toxins. Because of the complex process of recycling e-waste, especially the lead in glass screens, please expect to pay $5-$15 to recycle monitors, computers and televisions. Other e-waste recycling is often free. Visit the City's Recycling Directory for more electronics recycling options.
Electronic waste is a social and global issue
- Some electronic recyclers ship e-waste to underdeveloped countries where toxic components are openly burned, soaked in acid baths and dumped into rivers, or piled into mountains of e-waste for scrap recovery.
- Children and impoverished people smash leaded glass tubes, breathe lead solder flames without protection and melt plastics with toxic flame retardants.
Ask your electronic recycler if it adheres to social and environmental standards. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has compiled a list of questions that may be helpful to consider as you choose a recycling center.