One of the most valuable recyclable materials, electronic waste or electronic scrap (e-waste or e-scrap) ironically is seldom recycled and when it is, it’s usually not handled in the environmentally sound or health-conscious way that’s called for.
With the growth of the disposable, mass consumption economy in the U.S., we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of technology we use and a decrease in the years of viability for an electronic device before it becomes obsolete.
According to Panda Mediacenter, a laptop has a predicted lifespan of 11.8 years, a desktop computer 6.5 years, a tablet 5 years, and a smartphone just 2 years. Over the course of a person’s lifetime, he or she may now go through large amounts of electronics including the above items and TVs, keyboards, fans, gaming systems, and batteries.
When a device is no longer useful, where does it go? Usually in a junk drawer, a spare room, or maybe it’s parted with at a garage sale. Sometimes it’s even thrown into the curbside trash or a recycling bin. The best thing you can do with a device that’s no longer useful to you is to give it a second life by donating it or selling it to someone else who can make use of it. But if a device is no longer functional, recycling it is an option.
Most electronics can be scrapped for incredibly valuable parts. Metals such as copper, silver, palladium, and gold can be melted down for reuse.
But according to the World Economic Forum, only 20% of global e-waste is formally recycled. The other 80% is often incinerated or dumped into landfills, where harmful toxins like cadmium, copper, beryllium, mercury, lead, and polyvinyl chloride will dissolve and seep into the soil, pollute groundwater, and lower air quality.
Even the electronics that are recycled may fall into the wrong hands. News stories have been increasing in the past several years about e-waste smuggling rings in Thailand, China, and other foreign nations in areas where the standards of living are low.
One such example is Virogreen, a Singapore-based recycler that was incarcerated for importing 96 tons of e-waste into Thailand under false pretenses. The recycler claimed the imports were secondhand electronic appliances to be resold as used electronics, but the culprit instead salvaged them for precious metals using hazardous methods that endangered the local community.
It’s crucial that e-waste is placed in the right hands to ensure that it’s recycled safely and by qualified individuals. If done correctly, recovering precious metals from e-waste is not only environmentally friendly but also more economical than mining it from the earth.
According to UN data, the deposits found in e-waste are estimated to be between 40 and 50 times richer and decrease the need for further tapping of natural resources.
It’s estimated that about 70% of heavy metals in our landfills come from electronic devices. This is a waste of landfill space, an environmental hazard, and a tragedy of waste.
So why is it happening? In order to recycle electronic properly, consumers are often required to go out of their way to find authentic recyclers in their area and are even sometimes required to pay a fee for safe-handling of toxic products. In some other countries, the manufacturers are required to foot this bill but in the United States, this burden is often shared by customers, governments, or nonprofits. People may also have privacy concerns and be unsure how to effectively wipe their devices of personal information.
And many U.S. recyclers aren’t even aware of where the e-waste they accept is actually going or how it’s being handled. A United Nations study reported that in 2016, only 20% of e-waste was disposed of properly.
More than half of U.S. states have even passed laws requiring people to recycle old electronics properly. But many people still remain unaware or consciously choose convenience over long-term health of the planet.
Health risks for materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, and BFRs have been well-known for a long time. Lead exposure can cause brain damage in children, mercury can cause brain and kidney damage, cadmium can poison the kidneys, and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) can affect hormone functioning.
If you’re not properly disposing your e-waste, there are resources that make it convenient for you to do so. Retailers and phone companies will often offer compensations or discounts on new products when you turn in old devices, mechanics will dispose of your car batteries when you purchase new ones, and tech companies like Best Buy, Dell, Sony, Staples, and VIZIO will accept e-waste free of charge. These companies will usually offer to clear your personal information for free. Panda medicenter also offers an extensive guide on how to do this yourself.
Waste Management has Think Green Home kits which you can order online to be delivered, fill up on your own time, and ship back for free with an included shipping label already affixed to the box.
We hope information such as this is useful for our readers, we continue to stay on top of the latest trends. Berg Mill has a long history as one of the pioneers in the industry, we are here to help you navigate through all the recyclable import changes. If you handle large amounts of recycled waste and are looking for solutions, please contact our industry veterans at Berg Mill supply via our website or phone at 866-333-BERG. Talk to us about purchasing any and all of your scrap paper, plastic, metal, textiles, glass grades, e-waste, and any other materials.