E-Waste: What’s in this Stuff?
by Trey Granger on October 9th, 2007
Just the phrase “e-waste” makes it sound like your favorite
electronics can do a lot of damage if disposed of improperly. But just
what exactly is so toxic about these devices that they account for 70
percent of the overall toxic waste that you currently find in landfills? In addition to valuable metals like aluminum, electronics often
contain hazardous materials like lead
and mercury. When placed in a
landfill, these materials (even in small doses) can contaminate soil as
well as drinking water. But let’s take it a step further and see what
(and how much) toxic material is in your average electronic device.
Back before there were plasma screen and liquid crystal display (LCD)
tubes, we were all watching our Super Bowls and sitcoms on cathode ray
tubes (CRT). The CRT model provided room for all your switches and wires
in a box behind the screen, but it also stored a lot of lead.
According to Electronic Recyclers, a provider of e-waste recycling,
approximately 20 percent of CRTs are comprised of lead, equivalent to
between four and eight pounds per unit.
Combine this with the fact that the FCC is going to
require all televisions to run a digital signal by February 19,
2009, and we could be looking at a lot of lead headed for landfills.
smallest amounts of lead can be a serious issue, and we’re talking
about eight pounds per unit.
While your trusty cellular phone may not contain as much toxic
material as larger electronic devices, its shelf life is only about a
year and a half for the average consumer. With hip new products like the
iPhone coming out all the time, it’s estimated there are over 500
million used cell phones ready for disposal.
Cell phone coatings are often made of lead, meaning that if these 500
million cell phones are disposed of in landfills it will result in
312,000 pounds of lead released. But possibly the most hazardous
component of the cellular phone is the battery. Cell phone batteries were originally composed of nickel and cadmium
(Ni-Cd batteries). Cadmium is linked as a human carcinogen that causes
lung and liver damage. Alternatives contain the potentially explosive
lithium, or the previously stated toxic material lead.
With toxic elements like lead and mercury found in each
mobile unit, it is important to keep cell phones out of landfills and
incinerators. There are many resources available to help you either recycle your
old cell phone or reuse it through donation programs set up nationwide.
We’ve already discussed the presence of lead in CRT computer
monitors, but there are other toxic elements in play when you’re
recycling that PC or Mac. Many laptops have a small fluorescent lamp in
the screen that contains mercury, a toxic material when inhaled or
Mercury is also contained in computer circuit boards, which also
include lead and cadmium. Circuit boards can also feature batteries made
of mercury, as well as mercury switches.
In just 2005, almost two million tons of e-waste ended up in
landfills. While toxic materials comprise only a small amount of this
volume, it doesn’t take much lead or mercury to contaminate an area’s
soil or water supply. Keep this in mind when you’re figuring out what to
do with those old electronic devices.
Computers & The Environment
by Earth 911 Staff on April 12th, 2007
2002, approximately 41 million computers will become outdated; and current
analysis by the National Safety Council estimates that 63 million computers
will become obsolete in 2005. It is estimated that by 2007, these stored computers will amount to about
500 million computers needing to be disposed. As new technologies enter the
market approximately every two years, e-waste is a mounting concern.
are different options available for computers besides just throwing them away
(or storing them). Many computers are built in a way that allows them to be
repaired or upgraded, which means they can be reused. With little effort,
these computers can be as good as the PCs currently on the market. Many
programs accept computer donations (which are generally tax deductible),
whereby the computers are refurbished and sent to local schools or
organizations in need.
The other viable option is recycling. Computers are made with a variety of
elements, like plastics, glass, steel, gold, lead, mercury, cadmium and fire
retardants that can be recaptured through recycling and used again. If thrown
away, these computers can release toxins to the environment, potentially
polluting the groundwater we drink and the air that we breathe. Recycling the
resources in computers also eliminates the need to obtain these elements from
nature, decreasing production impact on the environment. By eliminating e-waste, the environment is protected, resources are saved,
organizations in need benefit and you make a difference in the quality of your
Fewer Than One in Four Americans Recycle Their Technology Waste
by Earth 911 on November 13th, 2007
Only 23 percent of Americans recycle their old or unused electronic items,
most just either throw them in the trash or don’t dispose of them at all. “The recycling of
electronic products at their end of life fuels economic activity, creates jobs
and diverts hazardous materials from landfills,” said Kate Krebs, executive
director of the National Recycling Coalition. “Every day in the U.S., an estimated 133,000 computers
are discarded and not recycled or reused, which causes mounting trash and
toxicity in landfills." According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American
consumers generate nearly two million tons of used electronics each year,
which contain hazardous materials such as mercury, cadmium, lead and
brominated flame retardants.
“Between 2000 and 2007, an estimated 500 million computers became obsolete
in the U.S.,” said Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs at
Staples. “Providing options for technology recycling is an important issue".
E- waste: A Recyclable Resource
by Justin K. Holcombe on October 8th, 2007
Each day, various types of consumer electronics are constantly
being upgraded or completely scrapped in favor of technological
advancements. In the process, scores of old VCRs, walkman cassette decks and
bulky video cameras become what is known as “e-waste” or electronic waste. Americans have amassed an enormous amount of electronic devices—an
estimated three billion in total. Given the large amount of potential
products involved, e-waste includes a broad range of electronic devices.
Unfortunately, improper disposal of e-waste creates a significant burden on
landfills because toxic substances can leach into the soil and groundwater.
Absent recycling, the problem could escalate.
In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that 44 million computers and
televisions found their way to landfills. This amount is likely to increase because
E-waste is growing at three
times the rate of other municipal waste. Although e-waste accounts for only
one to four percent of municipal waste, it may be responsible for as much as
70 percent of the heavy metals in landfills, including 40 percent of all
lead. E-waste should not be considered waste. It is a resource. Useful
materials such as glass, copper, aluminum, plastic and other components can
often be extracted and reused. Some manufacturers have even referred to
e-waste as a valuable source of materials.
With an increasing array of environmentally-friendly options now
available, people should consider recycling or donating their old electronic
devices. With either choice, we can reduce the amount of e-waste and
actually put our old items to good use.
Proper Disposal and Recycling of E-Waste
by Justin K. Holcombe on October 10th, 2007
Fortunately, there are a number of options
available to those who want to recycle their old electronic items. To
address the increasing amount of e-waste, many state and local governments,
electronics manufacturers, and non-profit organizations have created
comprehensive recycling programs. Several states, including California,
Maine, Maryland, Texas and Washington, have even enacted laws requiring the
collection of certain electronics.
E-waste recycling options vary across the country. So, the first step to
determine what options are available in your area is to review information
about your local recycling program. This information is available on
www.Earth911.org and the following websites:
In addition to “traditional” recycling programs, some electronics
manufacturers and retailers also offer e-waste recycling.
Manufacturer Specific Programs
Cell Phone Recycling/Donation
E-Waste: The Final Frontier
by Trey Granger on October 11th, 2007
So you’ve just returned from an electronic waste recycling event after
unloading your old computers, cell phones and televisions. But what
happens next to ensure that as little of these products gets placed in a
landfill as possible?
Electronic devices are constructed with lots of
different materials, so recycling of e-waste is a more complex process
than recycling aluminum, paper, or motor oil
To understand the e-waste recycling process, one must first realize
that e-waste recyclers (and in general, all recyclers) are interested in
both saving these devices from landfills as well as getting the most value
out of these materials. Electronics such as computers and televisions are
made with some valuable metals, including copper and gold, which can be
sold and then reused in alternative capacities. From an environmental standpoint, the fact that these items are being
reused is far more important than the fact that recyclers are making money
off of it. E-waste recyclers are also recycling and reusing materials that
aren’t nearly as valuable.
“A full 99 percent of all materials that go through our doors are
recycled—meaning that they go into reuse of some sort,” says John
Shegerian, Chairman & CEO of
Electronic Recyclers Inc., the largest e-waste recycler in California.
“The vast majority of these materials are used for new electronic items
because some of the material, the plastic, for example, is the right grade
for electronic devices to begin with.”
Putting the Waste in E-Waste
If 99 percent of the material is recycled, that still leaves a small
percentage that will end up in the landfill because it has no reuse value.
So what materials fall into this category?
“For us, that one percent is wood, such as the wood paneling on some of
the older models of television sets – which has no value to us,” says
Shegerian. “That’s why we are able to say that 99 percent of the e-waste
we get is recyclable, because wood makes up only a fraction of one
This is certainly not an excuse for those with wood paneled TVs to not
recycle, as one percent waste is still much better than 100 percent. The
good news is that many of the televisions in circulation these days don’t
have wood paneling on the front. If you check out
Panasonic’s page on the components of a television, wood paneling
isn’t even listed.
Hazardous Waste Disposal
The other big issue regarding e-waste recycling is the end result for
hazardous materials, including lead
and mercury. While e-waste only
accounts for two percent of America’s garbage in landfills, it accounts
for 70 percent of the toxic garbage.
For e-waste recyclers, removing the toxic materials is just as
important as removing the most valuable materials like gold and copper. To
remove the lead you’ll find in computer monitor glass, the glass will be
placed in a furnace where the lead can be taken out. Circuit boards are
sent to refineries so the mercury can be removed professionally.
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