Our need to have the latest gadgets and gizmos means there is a growing supply of cellphones, computers, televisions and other electronics that need recycling. The amount of outdated electronics — or e-waste — piling up is mind boggling and best measured in tons.
Americans have about 100 million old TVs stored in closets, basements and garages, according to a 2007 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 230,000 tons of old electronics were collected for recycling last year through the eCycling Leadership Initiative of the Consumer Electronics Association. Many state and local governments conduct e-waste collection events. Arizona, for example, collects and recycles about 15 million pounds of old TVs, computers and other electronics each year.
There are many reasons to recycle electronics — copper, steel, gold, silver. The wiring in some older desk top computers may yield up to five pounds of copper, says Mark Shaffer, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. One metric ton of circuit boards has 40 to 800 times the amount of gold from one metric ton of ore, according to the EPA.
Cellphones contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc that can be recovered and used to make jewelry, plating and electronics. One million recycled cellphones will yield nearly $2 million in gold and more than $370,000 in silver. Toss in 35,274 pounds of copper and 33 pounds of palladium and recycling electronics can be good business.
Earl Campbell, owner of the Phoenix-based electronic recycling company E-Waste Harvesters, first tries to find new users for old computers and electronic gears collected at electronic recycling centers. Computers that aren’t too outdated are tested, refurbished and sold. Old radios and video cassette recorders are sold to collectors.
There is even a market for old computer parts, says Campbell. Just as some folks like to fix up old cars, some hobbyists like to fix up old computers, he says.
“Why scrap a product someone else can use?” asks Campbell, noting that reuse is just as important a green strategy as recycling.
The plastic from computer cases, TV shells and other recycled electronics is separated, sorted, bundled and shipped to plastic companies that use it to make new plastic products such as garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers, and replacement automotive parts.
An online guide to finding an electronic recycling site near you can be found on greengadgets.org.
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