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Green Ways to Get Rid of E-Waste
By Margaret H. C. Giblin   View more articles by this author
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February 03

Electronic gadgets are all around us, helping us out in innumerable ways.  But over time, they stop working, become obsolete, or for whatever reason, we no longer want them.  What happens to all those unwanted electronics?  Unfortunately, a lot of them end up in the trash.  Specifically, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2007 alone, discarded TVs, cell phones, computers and their various accessories totaled about 2.5 million tons.  Only about 18 percent of those TVs and computers – and about 10 percent of those cell phones – were recycled.  And EPA predicts that the amount of e-waste, which already makes up about 2 percent of our total waste stream, will continue to grow.  That makes for a lot of electronics ending up in landfills.  Regular landfills (where household trash goes) aren’t properly equipped to handle the toxic and hazardous components, like mercury and lead, that leach out of discarded electronics.  That means these compounds could end up polluting the environment.

So what’s an environmentally conscious but tech-savvy consumer to do?  Follow the old adage of reduce, reuse and recycle.  First, reduce waste.  Not that you should forego buying a new TV in order to hold onto your heavy old tube TV from decades ago.  At the same time, ask yourself whether you really need to upgrade everything every time something newer and faster becomes available.  Cell phones are a great example—lots of plans give you a free upgrade every couple of years if you sign a new contract.  What are the impacts of getting a new cell phone just because you can, even if your old one still works?  In addition to the e-waste issue, that new cell phone also costs natural resources and energy to make.  Cell phones are a particularly interesting case, because the impact of their production can be directly linked to harm to one of the world’s most charismatic species.  Cell phone circuit boards include a mineral called coltan, which is mined in the forests of Congo in central Africa.  Coltan mining results in loss of habitat for the already-endangered lowland gorilla.

If you can’t resist upgrading your cell phone, you can still have a positive impact.  Many non-profits run cell phone recycling programs. They collect the cell phones and sell them to an organization that refurbishes them and provides them to persons either in the U.S. or overseas at a low cost.  Phones that don’t work are sent to facilities that are properly equipped to dispose of them.  This is a win-win(-win!) solution – your phone doesn’t end up in the landfill, you benefit the charity you donate it to, and you might help someone who couldn’t otherwise afford a cell phone.  You may even cut down on the demand for coltan, therefore helping to protect gorillas in the wild. 

There are other ways to ensure your old electronics get re-used: 

  • If the item is still in good working condition, see if you can sell it—on craigslist, for example.
  • If it still works but no one wants to buy it, post it in the “free stuff” section of craigslist.
  • Post it to your local “freecycle” group – this is a great option for all kinds of stuff you’d like to get rid of but would rather not send to the landfill.  Search for your local freecycle group on the Yahoo Groups page.  People post all sorts of things for free and most of it is wanted by someone.

For items that just can’t be reused, e-cycle! 

  • Every Best Buy store accepts nearly all electronics for recycling – up to 2 items per day. 
  • Go online to find options for e-cycling near you.  One good place to start is EPA’s e-waste page.  Another is your local city, town or county’s government website.


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