Electronics Recycling to Save the Environment

Electronic equipment contain some of the most toxic substances such as lead, chromium, mercury, and others. At the present time a lot of electronics are not being recycled the way they should be. In this article I attempt to show how we are producing massive amounts of electronic waste and the proper way of electronics recycling for a cleaner safer environment.

Why We must Recycle Electronics

Did you know that Americans discard 40 million computers and Television every year? There are 1.2 billion cell phones world wide. 156 million Americans including 20% of teenagers own cell phones. Cell phones are used for an average of 18 months and then discarded. In 2005 alone a total of 400 million units of electronic waste was discarded. This amounts to 4 billion tons of electronic waste. Which is 2 to 4% of all solid waste in the United States. Of this electronic waste 87% ends up in landfills or are incinerated. Only 12.5% are recycled.

There is 4 to 8 pounds of lead in computers and television CRT monitors. Cell phone batteries may contain nickel and cadmium particles especially older ones. Printed circuit boards in computers, music players and other electronic gear contain toxic metals such as chromium, nickel and zinc. Relay switches, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) contain mercury. Plastics contain flame retardants which are extremely toxic and persist in the environment. I am mentioning just the few prominent once. There are actually over 100 toxic chemicals contained in electronic equipment.

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This is how much e-waste an individual in the UK discards a year.   licensed for com. reuse under creative commons
This is how much e-waste an individual in the UK discards a year.   licensed for com. reuse under creative commons
This is how much e-waste an individual in the UK discards a year. licensed for com. reuse under creative commons

Because of the ever increasing innovations and the public desire for better and faster electronic gadget,the amount of waste may be doubling up soon. It is bad enough we are filling the landfills with huge amounts of bulky material that maybe mostly not biodegradable. What needs serious scrutiny and serious measures is the enormous amounts of toxins that leaks into our soil and ground water and into the air. As you may be aware our electronic equipments contain high levels of very toxic chemicals.

Why is More Electronics Not Recycled?

First of all even most of the12.5% that are being recycled are not safely and properly recycled. Most of this electronic waste ends up being sold to so called developing countries such as China. In China laws have been put in place against toxic trade. It s not complete but certain computer parts such as CRT monitors are not allowed to be imported. But certain recycling companies still export these monitors illegally .Most recently African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria have become destinations for toxic e-waste exporting. In these countries the technology for safe and proper electronic recycling simply is not there. Guidelines and laws on disposing off and recycling toxic waste are either very minimal or none existent. So why does our electronics waste end up in these countries? The answer is, because it is profitable and there are no strict guidelines and regulations by the U.S government.that prevents recycling companies from exporting toxic solid waste to poorer counties .Now all export of used electronics is not bad. Some African countries benefit from imported computers that is functional or fixable. It has stimulated the creations of small businesses that refurbish such computers and sells them. The problem is when some recycling companies in the U.S. thinking of only the bottom line, shun responsibility and export such toxic hazardous waste such as CRT monitors to these countries.

Exporting toxic e-waste will eventually comes back to us. The pollution gets to us as the toxins eventually get into the oceans, or are carried by wind, and also in the event we eat imported contaminated food, or any other contaminated imported goods. Case in point the lead contaminated toys imported to the U.S from China. Some experts have traced the lead in those toys as coming directly from the lead in computers exported from the US. We should not forget that we live in global village. Whatever happens on the other side of the globe may as well affect us too.

Once these electronic waste arrive in these poor countries cheap labor is used to try to recover as much material as possible. What ever they can't use ends up in their landfills and some are incinerated. These toxins mentioned above leak into their soil and ground water. The air is polluted from the incineration with persistent particles. Not to mention the workers who are unprotected and exposed to these extremely dangerous chemicals. More over personal and company data are not usually removed from the hard drive of electronics equipment leaving many people vulnerable to identity theft.

Most of what is recycled here in the U.S. is not recycled properly either. Again most of the recycling companies are in it for profit so they don't spend the extra money that it lakes to make their electronics recycling facility safe and well equipped. They don't do a thorough job of dismantling the electronic equipment so that most of it is reused. In fact most of the recycling work is done by prison labor under very unsafe condition. And the remaining electronic waste ends up in landfills here in the U.S.

The Dangers of Electronic Toxic Pollutants

This Toxic pollutants can eventually find its way into our bodies and accumulate in various organs and interfere with normal functioning. They may even cause severe illnesses and death. Lead, mercury, and chromium are toxic metals that we could be exposed to by ingesting soil or food. Chromium can also be absorbed through the skin. Here are some of our body parts that could be adversely affected.

  • immune system
  • respiratory system
  • development of the fetus and children
  • central nervous system
  • kidney function
  • respiratory system

Another problem with these toxins is the body can't break them down easily. They accumulate over time and become extremely toxic.This happens in plants and animals also. For instance mercury and lead that has leached into soil and water sediment can accumulate in microscopic organisms. Small fish feed on this organisms accumulate more. Other fish feed on these with further increase of mercury and other toxins. Long lived very large fish will feed on this fish and accumulates large amounts of toxins. And when people eat these fish regularly, they will be exposed to greatest harm.

The data is taken from Consumer Report Magazine/ Electronic recycling and the EPA website.

Which Electronics Recycling Companies are Truly Environmentally Just

When we recycle we need to be careful which recycling companies we are dealing with. As I mentioned above there are many companies that are taking very little measures to prevent pollution from taking place and they are making a lot of profit. Right now in the United States the companies that are doing proper electronics recycling are in the minority. One reason being they can't compete with those hugely successful polluter companies. So you have to do your research and find out what their policies are.

Even though the U.S Congress has not passed strong enough bills to regulate these companies, there is an international organization known as BAN (Basel Action Network) fighting global environmental injustice and the devastating effects of Toxic trade. BAN passed multilateral environmental agreement at the Basel Convention in Switzerland to reverse the dire effects of exporting hazardous electronic waste from rich to poorer countries. This Basel amendment is ratified by all industrialized countries except for the U.S. The United States has continued to oppose and resist this international agreement. One of BAN's projects is e-Steward which has established high standards for recycling companies in the U.S to follow.

The e-Steward recyclers are a group of recycling companies who has been qualified by BAN as upholding the highest standard of environmental and Social justice. And this is known as e-steward standard. You can check out their logo at their site at http://www.e-steward.org/. So one of the best ways to tell if a recycling company is following strict environmental standards is to look for this logo and to ask if they have been certified by BAN. The e-steward web site has also listed all the electronics recycling companies in the U.S. that has signed on to the e-steward standards.

Recycling your Electronics and Making money

To encourage recycling and reuse of electronics, I have written a hub about making money while you recycle your electronics. Here is the link.Recycling Electronics While Making money.

What to Look For in a Good Electronic Recycling Company

These BAN and its branch E- Steward are not the only once working to bring about change to this issue. There are others. I just wanted to give them as an example and I found them to be the most thorough. On the side bar I have given names of companies that are doing an excellent job of recycling hazardous electronic waste. You can visit their web sites and see what they do, Most of them seem to do business with large organization but some of them do recycling for individual consumers.

Here some things to look for in a recycling company:

  • Do not allow any hazardous electronics waste to go to landfills or be incinerated.
  • Do not allow any hazardous e-waste to be exported to developing countries.
  • Do not use prison labor to process e-waste
  • Will make sure all data is removed from the hard drive before recycling

For a more complete list of things to look for go the e-steward website.

It is my humble opinion that we must change our way of life of endless consumption, endless production, and massive accumulation of waste. It just is not sustainable. If we are to be effective in slowing down the destruction of our environment, we need to consume less, produce goods that lasts longer, can be upgraded easily, and can be pulled apart easily for recycling.  And we can use none toxic materials to produce our goods. Other ways keeping electronic waste out of landfills are reusing and re-purposing electronic gadget which I have written a hub about.  In this way we can stop poisoning and destroying the planet we live on. So let us plan for electronics recycling for a cleaner safer environment.

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Comments 12 comments

midnightbliss profile image

midnightbliss 6 years ago from Hermosa Beach

discarded electronic devices are harmful not only to our environment but to our health, so proper information and disposal of them should be given importance. those developed countries should find ways on how to recycle these materials or at least have a safe way to dispose of them since they have the technology and the capacity, and not just send it to the developing countries.

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 6 years ago Author

Thank you for the feedback Midnightbliss. Yes that is my message. And each one of us living in these rich counties can be more aware of what is going on and the part we play in it. It is not that I don't enjoy and use the great electronic gadget out there. I do. I am just saying that constantly bying the newest inovation that advertizers entice us with when we may not realy need it and then discarding a perfectly functioning and useful electronics is one of the reasons we are polluting our environment. I think we can do better. I think many of this electronics can be mmade to be upgraded and we can use less toxic materials. We the consumers can pressure the manufactures to make sustainable electronc equipment. And things are getting better. Many companies, I think one of them is Dell, will take your old computer when you buy new one and recycle it properly.

artart47 6 years ago

My family and I started scrapping old computers and cell phones.We have been getting in 200-300 units a month plus cell phones. We tear them down, separate the materials,remove hard drive platters and score them,scrap the metal,plastic gets recycled in milwaukee,wiring,boards,cards,platters are stockpiled for smelting and metals extraction. Nothing goes to landfill! Over half come from scrap guys on garbage day.They give me ten PC's I give them ten steel cases in return that they can scrap. We snatch them hours before the land fill!Feels great!I need your help!I'm trying to find the people who have been paid already to haul away the garbage computers and make them go away. I can take a 40 or 53foot container of PC's,servers,mainframes,mac's,cell phones ect about every 6mons,but I can't accept monitors now (a sunday random check of the TV&monitor guys dumpster,tubes with the yokes broke off. he cut off) if they will dump it in Racine,Wi. instead of in the third world.In 24hrs. they can have their empty container back ready for another export load, not much,but I know i'll be saving a few lives and we might add to the college fund! Please! if anyone knows anyone who will put me in contact the person who could do this for me..let me know! thanks! artart47@yahoo.com

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 6 years ago Author

Hello artart47. You sound very sincere and what you are trying to do sounds wonderful. Reusing every part of the computer and nothing going to the landfills is what we should aim for. I wish I could help with this but I don't know anybody who does that, but if I hear of any body I will let you know. You can join hub pages if you haven't already and write hubs about it. You will meet people with similar interests and maybe someone who is interested will contact you. Good luck and thank you for reading and commenting on this hub.

Pete Samuels 6 years ago

There's a group that's building awareness to TVs polluting the world with an online graveyard called JUNKED TV at http://www.junkedtv.com

Lonely TV's are now a permanent fixture on our sidewalks - it's an odd phenomena when you take the time to notice it - If you see a junked tv on the side of the road take a pic and email it to them to add it to the campaign.

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 6 years ago Author

Thank you googleandroids and Pete Samuels for stopping by and making comments and responding to each other. I am going to look up Junked TV. I am glad there are groups making such an effort towards this problem.

Houston Desktop disposal 6 years ago

Well It most definitely is a great idea to recycle electronic things

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 6 years ago Author

Yes recycling electronics is great. I think it is a must.

cheap refurbished computers 5 years ago

I would like to appreciate the work of blog author that the person provided us with an extremely excellent information regarding the topic. Ireally learned something from this blog and started to contribute my ideas via commenting on this blog. Keep it up

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 5 years ago Author

Thank you for your kind comment and yes I will keep writing on similar issues in the future.

refurbish used computer 5 years ago

The blog provides helpful information regarding the topic and it also gives a vast knowledge as well which helps us in our studies and in practical life.

lelanew55 profile image

lelanew55 5 years ago Author

Thanks for stopping by and I am glad you find this helpful. I support you kind of business, selling refurbished computer as It is a very good way of recycling electronics to save the environment.

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