All of your electronic products have a “use by” date, and sooner or later, you’ll have to discard them. Manufacturers call this “planned obsolescence,” where electronic items stop functioning after a certain period. This helps keep sales volumes up over the long term and makes people buy newer and more fashionable products to replace older ones. Due to the very short life cycle of many electronic products, recycling them is imperative to slowing the buildup of global waste.
This article explains how to get rid of old electronics with a minimal impact on the environment.
What Are Electronics Made Of?
Electronic products contain metals that have gone through energy-intensive processes during their procurement and manufacturing. Common household devices such as phones, tablets, and smart kitchen appliances consist of several smaller components and chemicals.
Electronic products contain chemicals — heavy metals, flame-resistant parts, and plastic softeners — that may be harmful. Under normal circumstances, they don’t pose much of a risk, as you’re unlikely to come in contact with them. Sometimes, however, dangerous chemicals like phthalates and flame retardants may escape into the air and become a cause for concern. Heavy metal poisoning from electronic products poses serious health risks.
- Mercury. Typically found in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) of cell phones, flat screen monitors, batteries, and fluorescent lamps.
- Nickel. Used in the circuit boards of cell phones.
- Lead. Found in the cathode ray tubes of television and computer screens.
- Cadmium. Widely used in rechargeable computer batteries and switches.
Can You Recycle Electronics?
Yes, most electronics can be recycled, including:
- Smartphones, tablets, and laptops
- Air conditioners
- Digital cameras
- MP3/DVD players
- Game consoles
While many U.S. states recycle several electronic products for free, some may charge a fee to recycle certain products, such as DVD players and game consoles.
How to Recycle Electronics?
Companies such as Apple give out relevant information about their products that help consumers either recycle their electronic products or dispose of them responsibly. Not only this, 25 U.S. states have passed laws that require you to recycle all of your electronic products. But despite such efforts, many people don’t know how to discard their e-waste.
Once you’ve decided to discard an electronic product, the first thing to do is to erase all of the data, especially from your cell phones, computers, tablets, and laptops. After this, you can do one of three things:
Give your item to a certified recycler. Depending on your location, you may have several options:
- Several communities and nonprofit organizations offer to recycle your e-waste. Some establishments like Call2Recycle also provide locations across the U.S. where you can drop your e-waste at no cost. Programs like Greener Gadgets list local stores on their website after you’ve entered your ZIP code.
- You can find exhaustive store options that recycle e-waste along with a list of products that they accept. You can choose the best option depending on the product you want to recycle.
- Another website — RecycleStuff.org — allows you to search for the best options near you based on the item you wish to discard. It gives details such as the address, website (if available), contact numbers, and the materials accepted by the local stores and establishments.
- Some U.S. states offer free recycling services and provide resources where you can find useful information about recycling your devices. For example, the city of St. Paul in Minnesota lists where you can drop off your e-waste. However, other states put the onus on electronics producers to build recycling infrastructure.
Donate it. If your item still works, you can choose to donate it. Websites like Digitunity and World Computer Exchange allow you to choose who gets your electronic device based on certain prequalifications. What’s more, you can mention your donation in your tax returns to get a deduction. Make sure you collect a receipt for your donation if you plan on doing this. RecycleStuff.org also gives a list of stores near you that accept such donations in kind.
Take it back to the manufacturer. Several U.S. companies that manufacture electronics run thriving recycling programs. You can check your manufacturer’s website to know whether they accept products for recycling.
Apple allows its customers to trade in old devices and use credits from products that qualify for their program on new purchases. Best Buy accepts a variety of used electronic products even if you didn’t buy it from them in the first place. Stationery giants like Office Depot and Staples offer credits when you return specific items, while Sprint provides account credits when you return mobile phones (even from other carriers).
Importance of Recycling Electronics
A United Nations study found that more than 53.6 tons of e-waste were thrown away in 2019, out of which only 17.4% was discarded properly. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, e-waste is the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in America.
Responsible recycling is vital to dispose of toxic substances, and many items contain components that can be reused with minimal to no additional effort.
- Although e-waste makes up only 2% of the total trash in American landfills, it accounts for more than 70% of the overall toxic waste produced in the country.
- The total e-waste produced worldwide every year is around 20 to 50 million tons.
- Cell phones and electronic gadgets contain precious metals like gold and silver. Americans discard phones containing in excess of 60 million dollars worth of precious metals annually.
- Recycling 1 million laptops can help save energy proportionate to the electricity used by more than 3,500 U.S. households every year.
- Recycling 1 million cell phones could fetch 35,274 pounds (16,000 kilograms) of copper, 772 pounds (350 kilograms) of silver, 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of gold, and 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of palladium.
- Manufacturing a single computer and a monitor uses up 530 pounds (240.5 kilograms) of fossil fuels, 48 pounds (22 kilograms) of chemicals, and 3,307 pounds (1,500 kilograms) of water. Many electronic components labeled “e-waste” are not waste at all, but can instead be remarketed and reused in their actual forms, thus drastically reducing the resource utilization for production.