Electronic Waste – if it has a plug, don’t throw it away!

I’m typing this on my new laptop computer while Mike works on the store’s main computer, the ipod is shuffling away through the stereo, and my cell phone is charging in the next room. All of these gadgets have improved our lives in ways we never could have imagined, and now we can’t live without them. Unfortunately, the life spans of these devices are fairly short, as new and better versions become available all the time. This leads to an incredible disposal problem, and not just because of the amount of space that all of this electronic refuse consumes (according to the recycling company E-Waste Solutions, individuals and organizations worldwide will replace more than 400 million computers in the next 3 years). Did you know that as much as 25% of a monitor’s weight is lead? Some monitors and TVs can contain up to 8 pounds of lead! Electronic equipment also contains loads of other metals and chemicals, like mercury, cadmium and fire retardants. When disposed of improperly, these toxic metals and chemicals leach into our soil and water supply. In fact, 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronic equipment. The other ugly secret is that 50-80% of electronic waste that has been collected by “recyclers” has been exported to developing countries, where laws about the disposal of toxic materials are more lax. This poses quite a danger to the people and to the environment of these countries. To read more about this exporting issue, visit this link

The good news is that there are many good recycling operations, and a lot of the materials that make up electronic materials (glass, steel, gold, etc) can actually be recycled, and the toxic materials can be captured and reused or properly disposed of. Also, many computer companies are now taking back old computers when you buy a new one.

Many of the recyclers at this link will take any item with a plug. This is good news for me, as I know I have some old fluorescent lights in my garage that have mercury in the ballasts, a few old cordless phones that I haven’t wanted to throw away because of the batteries inside, and scads of telephone and stereo cables clogging up my junk drawers and tool boxes. And don’t forget — you can bring me your old cell phones for recycling! The company that recycles them either donates them to good causes or makes sure they are recycled properly, and The Orangutan Conservancy gets a few dollars for each phone to benefit orangutan conservation in the wild. If you’re not here in Portland, you can mail your old cell phone to:
Happy Hollow
Cell Phone Recycle Program
1300 Senter Road
San José, CA 95112

A quick Google search for electronic waste recycling in your state should make it easy to find a place to bring your stuff. Here are a few links to help as well:

Staples takes e-waste

Apple takes back computers

Wikipedia’s article on e-waste has lots of great links

Dell’s recycling program

Sony’s free take back program