There’s no denying that one of the most amazing aspects of living in the 21st century is the efficiency and convenience brought about by a range of electronic gadgets that surround our lives. Whether we like it or not, the constant connectivity and information overload that comes along with it is here to stay. Unfortunately for our planet, so are all the outdated gadgets that we enthusiastically discard, once shinier new versions come around.
It’s not your fault; most electronics manufacturers design, build and market their products to be replaced easily, with terrible environmental consequences. This harmful cycle of “buy, discard and upgrade” every few months or years is what is leading to a gigantic pile of e-waste that is mostly ending up in landfills, instead of being recycled. According to most recent Environmental Protection Agency figures (pdf), a vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. is still ending up in our landfills and incinerators, with only 17.7% going to recyclers.
From a policy standpoint, electronics manufacturers should be held responsible for the entire life cycle of their products, which means products designed with sustainable materials, to last longer and be completely recyclable. Further, although this may seem shocking to many, most recyclers in the U.S. don’t actually recycle your old electronics. Instead, they ship them off to developing countries, causing air and water pollution and exposing people to toxic chemicals because of the unsafe methods used to reclaim precious metals from circuit boards and wires. We need to tell our lawmakers to enact legislation to stop global e-waste dumping. More importantly, we all need to play our part in disposing our electronics responsibly.
Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. Donate: While that old computer may seem like a worthless piece of junk to you, there are plenty of charitable organizations that are looking to repair, upgrade and pass on refurbished computers to those who need it. StRUT , The Make-A-Wish Foundation, Komputers4Kids, World Computer Exchange and The National Cristina Foundation are great organizations you should consider donating your used electronic equipment to.
2. Re-purpose: Admit it, you waste way too much time staring at your smart phone or laptop anyway. Why not get creative and geek out a bit by re-purposing your old electronic equipment into something cool? This article has some amazing ideas; you can turn your old iPod into a portable hard drive, your old computer into a jukebox and almost any electronic equipment into art.
3. Recycle: Find a recycler that is part of the E-Stewards network, because they are required to follow higher standards and don’t export your old equipment to developing countries. Further, many will also reuse and refurbish your equipment. For cellphones, Capstone Wireless is a great option and Call2Recycle will take your rechargeable cell phone batteries. Both organizations have signed on to the e-Stewards Standard for responsible recycling and reuse of electronic equipment.
4. Take it back: Many electronics manufactures and retailers have established voluntary take-back programs. Some states (like New York) have even passed laws that will require manufacturers to collect and recycle or reuse unwanted electronics. The EPA website has a comprehensive list of manufacturers and retailers that offer such programs. However, not all of these programs use e-Stewards certified vendors and some may still be exporting your old equipment to developing countries. For more information, check The Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s website, which also offers a lot more information on what you can do to tackle the e-waste problem.
5. Don’t upgrade! We’ve saved the best for last. Of course, the best way to combat e-waste is to not create it in the first place. You should resist the urge to upgrade and replace your iPhone, Blackberry or other favorite gadgets every time an electronics manufacturer announces the latest and greatest version. Don’t fall into their marketing trap; you know you’re better than that! By using your electronics till they actually die out, you will not only save yourself a lot of money, but will also save our planet from being destroyed by e-waste.
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