By Marlena Norwood
Are you buying an electronic device for someone on your list this holiday season? Chances are, the answer is yes. Americans have approximately 24 electronic devices per household—about six devices per person for the average four-person family.
Why this excess? Many companies produce new versions of their cell phones, laptops, and tablets every year. This leaves us the choice to continue using products that will quickly become obsolete, or to leave them behind and jump on the innovative-bandwagon.
So what happens to all of those old electronic devices that either don’t function or have been replaced by a newer model? There are a few different scenarios—they sit around your house for the next ten years accumulating dust; you throw it in the trash with the rest of your unwanted items; or you send it to an electronic recycling facility, aka “eCycling.”
Sending your unwanted electronics to an eCycling facility is a much better option than sending them to the landfill. Sending electronics to the landfill poses serious problems.
First, there is the issue of space. Each year, after subtracting what is composted and recycled, Americans send more than 150 million tons of trash to landfills. Unless we start sending our trash to space in the future (which would present many other ethical, ecological and logistical issues), we will run out of room to store it all. Compared to other items, a single electronic device can take up a lot of space. Currently, electronics make up about 1-2% of all municipal waste—much less than plastics (the largest proportion of municipal waste, at about 40%), but still a concern given the total amount of waste generated.
Also, devices can contain chemicals and toxins harmful to human health if placed in proximity to neighborhoods, or if leaked into groundwater. The toxins of utmost concern are lead and mercury, both of which cause reproductive health issues and brain and nervous system disorders, and stunt development, especially in young children. When these products are not properly disposed of, we run the risk of poisoning populations with these harmful metals into the future.
ECycling is a great way to reduce the threat of poisoning and to lessen the amount of municipal waste generated. In 2010, almost 52 million computers and 152 million mobile devices were disposed of (sent to a landfill or recycled) in the United States. Computers were recycled at a rate of 40%, but mobile devices at a rate of only 11%.
After the Electronic Waste Recycling Act was passed in 2003, many eCycling facilities have been created for consumers to recycle their electronics. However, not all eCycling facilities are equal. To make the process simpler for us consumers, the EPA has developed a process through which eCycling facilities are certified. View this map to find certified eCycling facilities in your area.
After you give or receive an electronic device this holiday season, make sure to recycle your old ones and inform others about the eCycling process! Give sustainability this season by including the address to a certified eCycling facility on any electronic gift you give.