E-Cycle: Know why, know where

Consumer electronics are an important part of everyday life. Unfortunately, the life cycle of televisions, DVD players, cameras, phones, and computer equipment seems to grow shorter, and we are often left wondering what to do with all this stuff.

While the recycling rate for electronic products doubled between 2000 and 2010, a whopping 80% of the electronic waste generated nationwide in 2010 still was not recovered for recycling. Most of what was not recovered ended up in landfills where there is a potential for toxic chemicals to leach into the soil and, eventually, the ground or surface water. Incineration of these materials presents other risks. Lead, cadmium, and mercury can be released into the air or the ashes. In addition, products containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other plastics can release harmful toxins when burned.

These risks are why many communities have laws that ban disposal of electronics with household trash. The good news is that electronic waste materials are readily recyclable. In some cases, working devices can be refurbished and sold to consumers. In others, valuable materials, such as copper, iron, silicon, nickel, and gold, are recovered from used electronics and recycled in the manufacture of new products.

As with all reuse and recycling programs, collection is the first step—and collection depends on you. To find an electronics recycling location in your community, try visiting Earth911’s Recycling Guide, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Electronics Donation and Recycling page, or E-cycling Central.

Photo credit © iStock | David G. Freund Photography

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