What happens to your old electronics?
Improper disposal of electronics is a major problem. Here's what you can do.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 20:17
A major problem has consumed the United States and other nations: e-waste. E-waste includes electronics, such as old cell phones, computers, TVs, cartridges and printers. As gadgets evolve and replace old ones, what happens to those older versions?
Most of the e-waste ends up improperly disposed.
The EPA estimates that out of all computers sold in the U.S., 75 percent is sitting in the backs of closets, unused. Once people finally get around to disposing of their old electronics, much of it ends up in a landfill (and/or often exported to Asia).
In the landfill, e-waste releases toxic chemicals which can enter into the environment. The chemicals can percolate into the land and contaminate the groundwater. Not good.
Another method of disposal is incineration. Through incineration, metals, such as mercury, are released into the atmosphere, creating a great deal of harmful pollution.
Exporting e-waste to developing countries is another major problem. In fact, inspectors found, in 2005, that 18 European seaports planned to illegally export 47 percent of their waste. Developing nations such as China, India and many African countries receive the e-waste. The problems that accompany e-waste are tranferred to those areas. Often, children are the ones who sort the items by hand, which can create major health problems for them.
Some old yet functioning electronics are donated to developing nations through special programs, in order to be reused. Such donation programs are a wonderful idea, in theory, but they can also cause serious problems; many of the electronics are dumped after a period of use in areas unlikely to have hazardous waste facilities.
The vicious cycle of contamination and pollution is exacerbated.
What to do with your e-waste
Many people simply do not know how to properly dispose of old cell phones, TVs, printers and computers. Here are a few encouraging facts.
In many places, recycling programs exist in order to properly deal with old electronics. For example, Panasonic has committed to responsibly recycling its products. Best Buy started an e-waste recycling program where drop-off kiosks have been implemented. The drop-off kiosks accept any old electronics from TVs to video cables, and Best Buy will take care of them. When it comes to disposing of electronics, recycling the products is the safest and most environmentally friendly option.
Many states are taking action and highlighting the issue. In the last eight years, 24 states have enacted some laws to mandate the collection and recycling of certain electronics. California was the first state to enact a law in 2003, and last year Vermont, South Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania joined the 20 other states by creating laws. Various e-waste recycling laws cover 65 percent of the U.S. population. Minnesota, Missouri, and Illinois, all states surrounding Iowa, have established e-waste legislation. Iowa has yet to do so.