Recycle Consumer Electronics

Phone and Electronics Tossed into TrashcanWe all have a pile of outdated, dusty, and seemingly ancient looking electronic equipment in some corner of our house or garage.  Spare parts ranging from old keyboards and mouse, to mystical wonders like the hard drive of that old school 586 computer, or a couple of Sony Walkman.  For a variety of reasons, we senselessly hold on to them.  Maybe you think that one day you might need that clunky 13 inch monitor or that you’ll save a couple of dollars not having to buy a new keyboard the next time you spill your coffee all over it. Or maybe you are like me and are a couple of screws loose away from being featured on that A&E show Hoarders.

Whatever your reasons, should you try to recycle consumer electronics or just throw out that old equipment with your other household waste? Simple. The wrong answer is throwing it out. Throwing out electronic equipment is detrimental because if fills up landfills, but even worse is that all electronic devices contain both valuable and harmful/toxic chemicals that will leach out into the soil and the drinking water. What’s more, it’s a waste of plastic, metal, and other parts that could be recycled and used in other electronic equipment.

Finally, even if your electronic equipment is old, there is a chance that it can be refurbished, which helps significantly reduce waste, which in turn helps reduce carbon output as a new piece of equipment doesn’t need to be created and shipped.  But the chance of having a re-useable electronic devise is small, mostly because the supply of discard products far exceeds both the demand and the resources to adapt them.  There just are not that many technicians available to focus on this slim margin business.

However, recycling your equipment doesn’t necessarily mean you are being green. Some recyclers of electronic equipment end up shipping the electronics thousands of miles away to be used or even dump them in other countries where they harm the environment.

India and China both import a lot of U.S. discarded electronics and it has been reported that the recycling practices employed there are both toxic to the local environment, the workers, and local residents.  Transporting equipment thousands of miles away to China to be recycled is a huge waste of energy and produces a large volume of carbon emissions, especially if that equipment is then resent straight back to the USA. Sadly, these electronics are handled by young and poor workers scavenging for valuable parts without protection from the hazardous materials, and then the electronics are often dumped in the countryside recklessly once stripped of all useful parts.

A couple of good alternatives are to post it on Craigslist, your local free stuff Yahoo group, look into a local charity option or online sharing sites. Sites like Freecycle and Craigslist can help you sell or just give away equipment that others want for free, which is beneficial to the environment, and this would be the best option for getting rid of your technological past. Many charities accept electronic equipment to help the less fortunate.

That’s double the karma points too, which most of us could definitely use. The best recommendation for used electronic equipment or old equipment is to donate it rather than recycle. This often means that the equipment is used locally or sold locally, so you are doing a great service to the environment on many levels.

Recycling electronic equipment is not a highly efficient process yet, and it hasn’t really caught on either. Less than 20% of TV’s and cell phones are recycled unfortunately, but much of this has to do with it being hard to find recycling centers as well as trusted organizations. Check out this site for starters for local recycling points, but make sure to research the organization that is allegedly recycling the electronics to ensure that it’s not being shipped abroad. With 20-50 million tons of what is called “e-waste” being disposed of globally every year, you can make an impact by donating or recycling. Maybe that really old Nintendo system can help bring some happiness to someone less fortunate if you donate it. We all know that the steroid up video games of today can never compete with classics like Mario!

John-R-Garnett-Picture1-150x150Another related article to be sure to read:Fast Food: Think of the Carbon Impact.


About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.