The Most Important Things You Should Know About Recycling Electronics
Did you know that 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. When discarded, these substances can be harmful to our health and the environment. One of the answers to this problem is coordinated recycling.
But how can I recycle my electronic waste? This is the question we answer in this article. We start by defining electronic waste. The article then looks at why you should consider recycling, how to do it, how to manage data before you discard your electronic waste, and where to recycle your old electronic equipment.
Electronic waste or e-waste is produced when electrical or electronic devices are discarded. Specific examples of such devices include television appliances, mobile phones, tablets, and laptops.
Estimates indicate that Americans discard over $55 billion in e-waste annually, and only about 17.4% of the world’s e-waste was recycled in 2019. These discarded devices need to be replaced, and it takes massive amounts of water, chemicals, and fossil fuels to produce new ones. We could save such resources if we had a coordinated way of recycling electronic devices.
Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, indium, lithium, cobalt, copper, aluminum—these are all minerals mined out of the earth to produce electronic devices. If they wind up in a landfill or an unprotected waste facility instead of a recycling facility, these metals can ultimately end up in the water supply.
Aside from avoiding toxic elements, it is important to recycle used products and materials to conserve energy. Also, we should bear in mind that all the electronic items that end up in landfills could have been used for something else.
An article published by Harvard University provides some ways we can use to minimize e-waste to “conserve resources and [reduce] the amount of energy we take from the earth.”
This involves thinking about every purchase carefully. For instance, before buying the latest phone in the market, consider whether you really need one if your old one still works fine.
Take a conscious effort to recycle all batteries and electronics so that none end up in landfills. Later in this article, we look at why you should consider donating electronics you no longer need.
One of the effective ways to prevent electronics from being dumped in a landfill is by treating them well. Simple actions like screen protectors, phone cases, and careful use of cars and other gadgets ensure that electronics don’t need to be discarded too early in their lives.
Products that have the Energy Star stamp of approval are known for running more efficiently than other products. Consumers in the US even sometimes get tax rebates for buying products that harm the environment less.
There are also organizations like the Green Electronics Council that make an effort to educate, advocate, and collaborate with citizens to help build a world where technology isn’t toxic to our everyday lives.
Generally, electronics are recycled at private and government facilities. Old gadgets that still function are passed down to donation facilities.
In some places like New York, residents are forbidden from throwing away electronics in their curbside garbage. They could even receive a fine if caught doing this.
The process of electronics recycling generally consists of the steps below:
Because the process of pulling apart tiny components from E-waste and separating them is such a time-consuming activity, most first-world manufacturers export their waste to countries like China and India, where the labor costs are much lower. Earth 911 estimates that over 70% of the world’s e-waste ends up in China.
Below are some of the e-waste components that are recycled:
● Hard disks
● Circuit boards
● Toner and ink cartridges
You have probably heard the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. When you donate electronics you no longer need, you are not just reducing waste; you are also helping those who may still appreciate them.
Donating to Social Programs
Don’t know where to donate your old electronics? Find a social cause.
There is likely another person who would love to use your old and functioning electronic devices. For instance, the WeCare Program run by SIMS Lifecycle Services collects used electronics. It uses them to teach computer literacy in South Africa’s rural areas.
SIMS Lifecycle Services says that “Besides bridging the digital divide in Africa, the program is also creating jobs, removing and recycling e-waste, and educating people about e-waste and refurbished electronics.”
Repairing Old Electronics
Some electronics have the potential to function but must first be repaired. Electronics repair is a great way to keep old gadgets out of landfills.
In an article published by TheConversation.com, Sara Behdad suggests that we look at electronics the same way we look at cars. She writes, “Traditionally, when a car breaks down, the solution has been to fix it.” Adding “Repair manuals, knowledgeable mechanics and auto parts stores make car repairs common, quick and relatively inexpensive.”
In advocating for repairing electronic products, Behdad says, “Our research also shows that the failure of most electronic devices is due to simple accidents such as dropping a device or spilling water on it.”
Can Hybrid Car Batteries Be Recycled?
One of the big questions around the recycling of electronic devices is whether we can recycle hybrid car batteries.
Yes, it’s possible. For instance, Tesla claims that 100% of its batteries can be recycled. A worn-out Tesla battery might not have the power to help a car go from 0-100 km in record times; however, it can be reused for storing energy in wind and solar energy plants.
To ensure that you enjoy the full benefits of recycling, it’s vital to recycle your used devices in a place qualified to do so. This means that you need to do your homework before using a specific recycler.
Be clear about the processes used by some private recycling facilities because not all of them operate above board. Also, some of the e-waste exported may not always be treated in an environmentally friendly way once it arrives overseas.
Managing Data in Devices Before Donating or Recycling
When you take your electronic devices to a recycling center, you have no idea what will happen to the devices when they are no longer in your hands. This is the reason you should think carefully about the data in your device.
Don’t forget to delete all personal information before recycling your electronic devices. Organizations like the Electronic Recycling Association promise 100% secure data destruction when you recycle through them.
ConsumerReports.org advises, “To make sure your personal data isn’t recoverable by reasonable means, do a secure wipe: This not only deletes your data but also overwrites the data a certain number of times, which makes the data much more difficult to retrieve.”
You can easily find the closest place for e-recycling on EPA.gov. Just navigate to the website and click on the link that says “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].” States like Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Vermont, Minnesota, and others have websites with more information specific to the area.
The National Environment Agency is another reliable resource when it comes to recycling e-waste.
Some electronics retailers charge a handling fee when consumers purchase the product. This money pays for the cost of recycling the product at the end of its service life. Find out from the retailer where you buy your device about its recycling facilities so that you know what to do when your device needs to be recycled.
A paper published by the journal Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews predicts that the “volume of e-waste is expected to increase by an impressive three to five percent per year as consumers demand more and more ‘smart’ products.”
From the above observation, it’s clear that we need to continue with making recycling of e-waste the norm. A world where e-waste is managed responsibly is possible if we are all prepared to make that extra effort.