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Electronic Waste Recycling

The following is a condensed version of an article titled “The Most Important Things You Should Know About Recycling Electronics”: by Adam Carter

Did you know?

  • Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,500 US homes in a year?

  • Donating or recycling consumer electronics helps conserve our natural resources, reduce greenhouse gasses, and avoid water and air pollution.   

  • Electronics, such as computers and monitors, contain toxic substances like mercury, lithium, and lead which, when discarded, can be harmful to our health and the environment.

One of the answers to this problem is coordinated recycling.


What Is Electronic Waste?

Electronic waste (a.k.a. e-waste) is produced when electrical or electronic devices are discarded. Examples include televisions, appliances, mobile phones, and all varieties of computer and devices that contain computers.    

Only about 17.4% of the world’s e-waste was recycled in 2019. To produce new ones to replacing old ones takes massive amounts of water, chemicals, and fossil fuels.


Why Recycle Old Electronics?

Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, indium, lithium, cobalt, copper, aluminum are elements mined out of the earth to produce electronic devices. Too many end up in landfills or unprotected waste facilities instead of at a recycling facility where these elements can be retrieved instead of contaminating land and water.

It’s important to recycle used products and materials to conserve energy. Also, bear in mind that all the electronic items that end up in landfills could have been used for something else.


Ways to Minimize Electronic Waste

An article published by Harvard University gives 6 ways to minimize e-waste.


Re-evaluating Purchases

Before you make a purchase, remember the order of the three R’s. The first is to REDUCE. So, before you buy, ask yourself if you really need to spend the money. Do you really need the latest phone on the market or a new computer, washing machine or the like? If you don’t, especially if your old one still works fine, hold off.


Recycling Batteries and Electronics

Information about how some towns on L. I. recycle them can be found on this Sierra Club website. It’s in the process of being updated but going directly to your town’s website can fill in any gaps. And consider donating electronics you no longer need. More about that follows.


Extend the Life of Electronics

An effective way to keep electronics out of where they don’t belong is by treating them well so they don’t need to be replaced as soon.


Environmentally Friendly Electronics

Energy Star products run more efficiently and therefore often last longer. Plus there are tax rebates on many of them, and over their life time, they cost less.

How Are Old Electronics Recycled?

Generally, electronics are recycled at private and government facilities. Gadgets that still function are passed down to donation facilities.

Did you know that in New York, electronics are forbidden from being thrown in curbside garbage? Fines are imposed if you are caught doing this.

Electronics recycling generally consists of:

1. Collection

2. Shredding

3. Dust extraction

4. Magnetic separation

5. Water separation: Water is used for separating plastics and glass.

6. Water purification: Water used is purified then reused.

7. Processing recycled materials: Materials are processed for transformation into new products.


Exporting E-Waste

The process of pulling tiny components from E-waste and separating them is time-consuming and expensive. Earth 911 estimates that over 70% of the world’s e-waste ends up in China because of its lower labor cost.

Some of the e-waste components that are recycled are:

● Plastic

● Glass

● Metal

● Mercury

● Hard disks

● Circuit boards

● Batteries

● Toner and ink cartridges


Donating Old Electronics

Doing so you reduce e-waste AND you help those who appreciate but may not be able to afford them. But who takes electronic donations?


Donating to Social Programs

Don’t know where to donate your old electronics? Find a social cause. For instance, the WeCare Program run by SIMS Lifecycle Services collects used electronics to teach computer literacy in South Africa’s rural areas helping to bridge the digital divide in Africa, creates jobs, removes and reduces e-waste, and educates people about e-waste and how to refurbished electronics.


Repairing Old Electronics

In advocating for repairing electronic products, keep in mind that research shows that the failure of most electronic devices is due to simple accidents such as dropping a device or spilling water on it, both of which can be fixed.


Reusing Hybrid and Electric Auto Batteries

Tesla claims that 100% of its batteries can be recycled. Typically, a “worn-out” Tesla auto battery does not have the power to make a car go from 0-100 km in record times; however, it and most other electric car batteries can be reused for storing energy in wind and solar energy plants.


Select the Right Recycler

Be sure to use a qualified place for recycling your used devices. This means doing your homework before using a specific recycler. Some recyclers do not do business above board and some of the e-waste exported may not be treated in an environmentally friendly way. Use the web to check out recyclers.


Managing Data Before Donating or Recycling

When recycling, consider what the recycler you chose will do with your device and the data on it.

Be sure to delete all personal information though for reuse (i.e., repair), you cannot remove the data card. But organizations like the Electronic Recycling Association promise 100% secure data destruction when you recycle through them.

And you can do your own secure wipe which not only deletes your data but also overwrites the data a certain number of times making the data very difficult to retrieve.


Where Should you Recycle?

You can easily find the closest place for e-recycling on or look for the article on this website that lists ways your local town does recycling of waste, not just e-waste. For the EPA information, go to the EPA site then click on “where to donate or recycle.”

You could also perform a quick internet search using the terms “where to recycle electronics near me” or “recycle electronics in [CITY].”

The National Environment Agency is another reliable resource when it comes to recycling e-waste.

Environmental Handling Fees

Some electronics retailers charge a handling fee when consumers purchase the product. It pays the cost of recycling the old product. When you are sure you need a new item, locate a retailer with such a program.


The Future of E-Waste Recycling Depends on Us

It’s expected that e-waste volume will increase three to five percent per year as consumers demand more and more ‘smart’ products.

So we each need to continue making e-waste recycling the norm.


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