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The Epidemic of Computer and Cell Phone Waste

Graphic with title "The Epidemic of Cell Phone and Computer Waste"

Technology moves faster than the blink of an eye these days, with each recent product purchase becoming obsolete mere months after it hits the shelves. The result? An electronic waste crisis, created by millions of used computers and mobile devices improperly disposed of into landfills. Electronic waste, or e-waste, dumped by the nation’s consumers adds up to a staggering 300 - 400 million electronic items per year, according to EPA estimates. Less than 20 percent of all electronics are recycled, the rest ending up in landfills to the detriment of our environment and our bodies.

Computer and Cell Phone Reuse and Recycling

The vast majority of materials used in computers, cell phones, and smart devices can be recovered to make new products, particularly since most devices are retired due to psychological, not technological, obsolescence.

  • Computers Over 75 percent of the U.S. population owns at least one computer. In 2010, over 71 million new laptops and desktops were purchased nationwide, contributing vast amounts of e-waste as older models were discarded– 423,000 tons. Of the computers disposed of, only 40 percent were actually recycled, a staggering amount of waste. This does not include monitors and other peripheral equipment, capable of introducing large quantities of contaminants into the environment as well as wasting precious resources. Just one clunky old monitor can house up to 7 pounds of lead. Mining for gold? A metric ton of circuit boards contains 40-800 times the gold and 30-40 times the copper mined from the same weight of ore. Recovering materials used in computers and other mobile devices is essential in conserving natural resources, reducing air and water pollution, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cell phones Of the 789 million mobile devices ready for recycling, the EPA estimates only about 11 percent are actually turned in. Of those turned in, 38 percent were reused or refurbished, the remaining 62 percent recycled for material recovery. A valuable form of e-waste, cell phones and other smart devices contain an array of precious metals: copper, aluminum, iron, nickel, tin, as well as gold, palladium, and silver. Eighty percent of mobile components can be recycled, including batteries, headsets, cases, cables and chargers. For every million cell phones recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered. Unfortunately, in addition to these precious materials, mobile devices can contain hazardous materials such as mercury, lead, and cadmium as well. Making improper disposal not only wasteful, but destructive.

Why aren’t consumers recycling?

  • Lack of awareness Many consumers are simply unaware of the environmental toll e-waste, or that there is any use left for devices deemed obsolete by themselves as individuals. From poorer countries who rely on our castoffs in hopes of owning cell phones, mobile devices, and computers, to domestic charities who can make great use of these devices, simply tossing your old computer or phone into the local landfill or leaving items to rot in a drawer or closet isn’t doing the environment, or anyone else, any favors.
  • Inconvenience In today’s busy modern world, where time is at a premium and convenience dictates behavior more than necessity, consumers have the tendency to avoid any course of action that involves them going out of their way to determine and carry out proper recycling procedures.

Recycle smart! Before you recycle your used computer or mobile device:

  • Get in the know. Familiarize yourself with state laws regarding recycling e-waste. Twenty five states have electronic waste recycling laws. To learn more about laws in your area, visit the National Center for Electronics Recycling.
  • Delete – then dispose. Completely erase all data and personal information to prevent its misuse. Use manufacturer and online resources for properly erasing data and be certain to perform a hard factory reset prior to recycling. Remove your SIM card or other storage chips/devices, and cancel mobile service if you have not done so already. Don’t forget to recycle your batteries and accessories as well.
  • Make sure they’re certifiable. Make certain any recycler you send a used computer or mobile devices to is certified by the EPA and uses separated waste streams.  Without proper recycling, your e-waste may be improperly dumped in a landfill or shipped to a third world nation. It is estimated as much as 50% to 80% of U.S. electronic waste that is collected in the name of recycling actually gets shipped out of the country.
  • Count on the source. Whenever possible, take advantage of manufacturer recycling programs such as those by Dell, Sony, Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and more when you purchase a new product. Recycling for these programs is typically low to no cost, and performed to high standards for brand protection. Have old stuff lying around but haven’t made a recent purchase? Call - many programs will accept your castoffs anyway.

Prevent e-waste woes. Count on the professionals from Mr. Electric for help managing the safe recycling electronic waste. Learn more about our solutions for managing e-waste today. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/products/environment/2008-07-06-ewaste-recycling_N.htm http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/02/25/computer-waste.htm http://www.wired.com/2010/05/process_cellphone/ http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Cellphone-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2011-12-27/recycling-gadgets/52240824/1 http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8818.html