Americans spent an average of $232 on electronic gifts this holiday season. This means approximately that amount of electronics will be rendered obsolete by the time users activate their new devices, producing an average of 400 million units of technology that piles up in our landfills every year. This so-called “e-waste” contains harmful chemicals that can be exceptionally toxic if they are leaked into our water supply. Toxins like lead, mercury and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are all present in computer monitors, cells phone and televisions. Luckily, companies and organizations are taking steps for us to quickly and conveniently ensure that our electronics to do not go into landfills and can even be used for the greater good.
Retailers like Best Buy and Target offer free on site recycling for small electronics like cell phones, batteries and PDAs. Larger electronics like TVs and computer monitors can be dropped off for about a $10 charge, in exchange for a $10 gift certificate.
Many cell phone manufacturers, including AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, provide drop off services or postage paid take backs. This is especially important given the rate at which new models and upgrades are being churned out. Until these manufacturers can figure out a way to do all upgrades through software alone, we have to do all we can to stem the flow of the approximately 400 million devices being thrown away annually.
Many non-profit organizations will take unwanted computers and cell phones, “wipe them clean” and redistribute them to developing countries or underprivileged communities. Earth911 even developed an iPhone app leading users to recycling centers and green events in their area.
According to a 2010 Sustainability Report, 200 million pounds of e-waste was recycled in 2009 and an estimated 300 million pounds in 2010. However, this is only approximately 14% of discarded electronics. About two dozen state governments now require manufacturer sponsored e-waste recycling with New Jersey and New York joining the list this year.
While e-waste recycling still requires much research and creativity, things are moving in the right direction. As we become more and more dependent on electronics, we must be mindful of how and where the discarded machines are disposed. Manufacturer sponsored recycling is probably the best way to go and soon, hopefully, disposing of electronics will be as easy as buying them.