As the holiday fever subsides and we are left with the reality all of our new toys, we are also left wondering what to do with our now old electronic devices. According to a public policy organization, Demos, the average American household owns 25 electronic devices. That number, coupled with a national estimate of an average $232 spent on electronic gifts this season, can only lead to a tremendous amount of electronic waste. Devices that are now obsolete or simply do not work anymore are being thrown out at a growing rate, filling our landfills at an ever increasing speed. However, large companies and small organizations alike are tackling the problem of so-called “e-waste.”
Also according to Demos, less than 14% of e-waste gets recycled despite the fact that opportunities for consumers to recycle are expanding. Many electronics companies offer “take back” programs that allow consumers to return their products directly to the manufacturer for eco-friendly breakdowns and recycling. AT&T, Dell, HP, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony and Sprint, to name a few, offer recycling programs – a full list of programs is available on the EPA’s website. Most companies offer free recycling, a rebate program or a postage paid shipping program. Best Buy allows consumers to drop off small merchandise in store for free and larger items like monitors and printers for a $10 fee, but return a $10 gift certificate immediately.
Additionally, some grassroots organizations have developed programs to donate used or outdated technology to third world countries or low income households. CollectiveGood donates phones in the U.S. and abroad, Iveneo gives used flash drives to students and workers in developing countries, Close The Gap refurbishes old computers for use in Africa and the list goes on. Most websites offer a zip code search feature to help users find drop sites near them.
Electronic waste encompasses all things electronic: everything from computers and printers, to TVs and VCRs, to cell phones and copy machines. Most of these machines contain chemicals that are proven to be harmful to both humans and animals, especially if they contaminate underground water sources. Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Lithium and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVS) are all known to cause health problems including cancer, nervous system problems and birth defects.
The moral of the story: be responsible for your electronic waste until manufacturers can execute all updates through software. A simple web search will reveal most of the recycling programs available in your area and most organizations try to make it as easy as possible. Earth911.com is always a good resource too as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.