Ethical Disposal of a Growing Segment of Our Waste Stream
E-waste has been defined as: "discarded electronic devices, and/or used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal", but is more easily defined as “anything with a battery or a cord”. Some examples of E-waste would be cellphones, tube-type and flat panel televisions, computer monitors, laptops, pads, printers, radios, microwave ovens and DVD players— just to name a few.
It’s likely that everyone reading this has dealt with e-waste in one way or another. Perhaps one of your electronic devices has broken, you have gotten a newer version and have no need for the old, or maybe you kept your original model as long as you possibly could but it finally became too obsolete or dated to use with current technology.
Current Technology: New is Already Old
Due to competitive technology and our information savvy society, even the latest technology is out of date within a few months of purchase. As a result, we are upgrading and changing out our electronic devices more often than ever before. It is estimated that 20 to 50 million metric tons of electronic devices are discarded each year.
E-waste is a dangerous material to dispose of improperly and irresponsibly due to toxic heavy metals such as mercury and lead and corrosive chemicals. These substances can cause serious damage when they are disposed of in the trash and subsequently end up in the landfill. When this happens, chemicals can seep (or leach) into surrounding groundwater causing serious harm to individuals, as well as the environment.
E-waste is also not acceptable in your traditional, Single Stream recycling. Lithium ion batteries which are located in many electronic devices can cause dangerous truck fires, while mercury-containing devices have the opportunity to break and cause a hazardous waste 'release'.
The safest and most responsible disposal for your e-waste is at a designated e-waste drop off location. To find these locations simply search "nearby e-waste drop off locations". You may also contact your local landfill, which may have designated e-waste collection days established for you to drop off your items for proper disposal. Smaller items like cellphones can also be recycled at e-waste drop off bins located within electronic stores like Best Buy.
The Most Ethical Choice
There are many options for disposal, but make sure to do your research to ensure the location you choose for your e-waste collection is reputable and certified.
Be aware that there are less than reputable vendors who will strip e-waste of their most valuable commodities, and proceed to dump the remains illegally and unethically. These remains are often deposited in developing countries or destitute areas of the world. Here, residents with no other means of income will often work for pennies-a-day disassembling, melting or burning your e-waste thus ingesting harmful chemicals and causing others to live in uninhabitable conditions.
Even those who do not witness this activity occurring, such as yourself, are affected by illegal dumping. Toxins from the heaps of mismanaged e-waste will inevitably leak into waterways and ultimately end up in our oceans. It is no mystery that many of the fish that we ingest are mercury-containing species
Oftentimes, a good indicator that your drop off location is legitimate is that there will be a cost associated with the pickup/disposal of your e-waste. Although some drop off locations are free, be particularly wary of e-waste collectors who offer to pay YOU for your e-waste. This can be a red flag as the disposal of e-waste does cost money to carry out correctly and ethically. Certified e-waste collection and disposal may not always be a free service but it is a responsible service.
The two most trusted e-waste certification programs are R2: Responsible Recycling© Certification, and E-Stewards Certification. Both programs are recognized by the EPA and are run by guidelines designed to promote and assess responsible practices for electronics recyclers.