The Dangers of E-Waste and How to Properly Recycle Electronics

Posted on Thu, 11/08/2018
Recycle Electronics Properly

By Rich Martin and John Klise

Today many businesses and individuals are making an effort to use less energy and recycle everything from paper to plastic water bottles. What many people — and companies — don’t think about, however, are the dangers of e-waste. 

There are a lot of items people don’t think to recycle — like wine corks and eyeglasses — that they should. A bigger problem is when we toss out electronics without considering how they might negatively impact the environment.

The Dangers of E-Waste To the Environment

Because most people don’t throw away a laptop every day, we often don’t think of them as huge waste creators. However, approximately two to five percent of solid waste in the U.S. is made up of e-waste. A study backed by the United Nations estimated that in 2016 alone, the amount of electronic waste in the world grew to an alarming 45 million tons. The problem isn’t simply that electronic items take up space in landfills; if they’re not disposed of properly, they actually harm the environment.  

When computers, cell phones, chargers, printers, and other electronic equipment get dumped into landfills, they don’t decompose. Instead, they release a lot of toxic chemicals that can seep into the soil and then into the groundwater supply. These ingredients include lead, barium, lithium, mercury, polybrominated flame retardants, and polyvinyl chloride. They leach out of the insides of the electronic devices, as well as from their exterior plastic casings. 

The World Health Organization has specifically called out electronic waste as a threat to children’s health. Some of the harm results from electronic waste that is dumped close to residential areas.

Raw Materials in E-Waste

In addition to creating a steady stream of toxins that flow into our environment (and eventually, into our bodies), tossing away electronic devices wastes a huge amount of raw materials that could be recycled. These include metals such as palladium, platinum, copper, and even silver and gold. 

How large is this problem? Only 20 percent of the world’s e-waste is being recycled. That same United Nations study found that by not recycling electronic devices, consumers wasted $64.61 billion dollars of raw materials in 2016. 

How to Recycle Electronics

Many people are set up to recycle their aluminum cans and water bottles but are at a loss when it comes to figuring out how to recycle e-waste. Some electronics retailers have kiosks where you can drop unwanted electronic items and chargers. You might also have municipal programs for e-waste recycling. 

In addition to this, businesses like Paper Tiger provide e-waste recycling services for a wide variety of items. Drop-off is free and convenient.

What Items Should Be Recycled?

Here is a list of common e-waste items that should be included in your personal or business e-waste recycling plan: 

Computers, cell phones, and tablets. This includes monitors and hard drive units as well as laptops. Any device with sensitive data on it should be wiped clean before being turned in for recycling to maintain your privacy and security. 

Computer accessories. Anything that can be attached or connected to your computer — either wirelessly or with a cord — can be recycled. This includes printers, scanners, computer mice and keyboards. Fax machines and copiers should also be responsibly recycled. 

Chargers and cables. It’s easy to throw out a stray computer cable or battered cell phone charger, but these items should be put aside and saved for e-waste recycling. 

Audio/Visual equipment. You should  recycle any AV or television equipment, including projection equipment and cable/satellite boxes. 

Data center equipment. This includes servers, server racks, power distribution units, mainframe computer equipment, and motor generator sets. 

If you have any questions about what items can be recycled, contact your local e-waste recycling center and ask to be certain. The dangers of e-waste are real. By making a plan and taking the time to recycle all of your e-waste responsibly, you’ll not only be freeing up room in landfills, you’ll also be helping Mother Earth.