Spreading Awareness of E-Waste
Ever wonder what becomes of the millions of out-dated, broken, obsolete, or replaced electronic equipment that is, in today's world, such a part of our daily lives?
Or, perhaps, you've wanted to toss an old cell phone or junk an ancient computer and found yourself wondering if chucking all that electronic equipment with thousands of tiny toxic components was the proper method of disposal for something that was likely not at all biodegradable?
Maybe you just, like thousands of others, have a veritable graveyard of dead, useless electronic equipment gathering dust in the dark of your office closet because you simply have no idea just what you're supposed to do with it in terms of disposal.
It's all related to the ever-growing quandary of e-waste.
So just what is e-waste? The term is short for "electronic waste" and covers everything from your old Atari 800 to that snazzy cell phone you replaced last year for the latest, cuter version. Any electronic equipment, from your television set, PDA, old beeper, computer keyboard, wireless mouse, speakers, or hand-held video game player falls into the e-waste category.
But What's the Problem?
You may be wondering why the sudden "worry" about e-waste. Haven't people been tossing their old TV sets to the curb for decades now?
Certainly they have, but the sudden upsurge in our use of electronics in every day life, and our lightening-speed ability to upgrade said objects makes for a vast rise in the number of electronic products biting the dust on a daily basis.
In fact, an estimated 250 million computers have become obsolete in just the past five years, according to the United States Environment Protection Agency.
133,000 computers are thrown out every day; that's not counting old cell phones, printers, fax machines, monitors, etc. All of these contain hazardous materials, usually in the form of plastics, lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. When these chemicals leak into the soil they will eventually begin to pollute our water.
To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, the EPA discloses that e-waste represents only around two percent of America's trash in landfills, yet it equals seventy percent of overall toxic waste.
When looking at it in those terms, one can easily see the potential - and growing - problems with not disposing of e-waste properly.
What Is Being Done?
Part of the problem is lack of information - the average citizen has no idea about e-waste and the problems it is causing for our environment. The United States has taken steps by writing up a number of electronic waste bills; most importantly the National Computer Recycling Act. Introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), however, the bill has continously - and unfortunately - stalled.
The State of California has taken matters into its own hands. In 2004 it introduced the Electronic Waste Recycling Fee. The fee covers only CRT monitors and is determined by the size of the monitor itself; a price that was adjusted in July of 2005 to match the true cost of recycling.
Other states that have, to date, enacted e-waste efficient bills and laws, though the list is still dishearteningly small, are: Maryland, Maine, Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and Texas.
Countries around the world are coming up with their own ways and ideas to combat this quickly growing problem.
What Can I Do?
There are plenty of things you, as a consumer, can do. First, spread awareness of e-waste by discussing the problem with friends and family, and especially your office or job. The more people that know the proper way to dispose of their electronic waste, the better.
Second, find out if there is a computer or electronic-recycling center in your city or anywhere nearby. Bring your equipment there when it's time to dispose of it; even a small cell phone has hundreds of harmful carinogens that are deterimental to our environment.
Some other methods and helpful alternatives are given below:
Staples nationwide are now taking used home-office equipment; a huge in-store e-waste recycling initiative. You can drop off any equipment - regardless of where it was first purchased - at any Staples store in the United States (there are over 1400 chains nationwide). For only $10.00 per item, Staples will recycle the equipment according to EPA standards. Keyboards and mice will be recycled for free.
You can also take part in Staples Recycle for Education program, which will donate $3.00, to your school of choice, for every eligible ink or laser toner cartridge collected. Click the link and sign-up your children's or a favorite local school and help education in an eco-friendly way.
EBay has taken on the problem of e-waste with their new project, Rethink Initiative, which encourages people and helps them to recycle, sell or donate their used electronic junk. You will find an extensive list of places you can drop-off used electronics to.
In a similar fashion, Earth 911 lets you search for electronic recycling centers by zip code.
Wondering where else you can recycle your electronic waste?
RecycleWirelessPhones.org is a great places to start; donated phones go to charities so you're helping those in need as well as the environment.
The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation has put together Call2RecycleTM for the betterment of our environment. You can find locations to drop off used cell phones and rechargeable batteries near you.
Verizon Wireless' HopeLine uses the money made from selling donated phones to fight against domestic violence.
Stuck with an old, unused pc? Donate it to The National Cristina Foundation, which refurbishes the computers to give to those in need. Their Mission Statement reads:
National Cristina Foundation (NCF) provides computer technology and solutions to give people with disabilities, students at risk and economically disadvantaged persons the opportunity, through training, to lead more independent and productive lives.
PC World also gives a wealth of information and good links on how and where to discard old computers in the article Junk Your Old PC - Safely.
If you would like to know more about the growing problem of e-waste, please visit eWaste Guide, a "knowledge base for the sustainable recycling of eWaste". I also recommend giving Drowning in e-waste by Henry Norr a read.