Trashing bans not reducing office e-waste


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Upgrading your business’ computers and mobile devices is essential for staying productive and keeping your data secure. But when you replace your hardware, what do you do with your castoffs? It’s an important decision considering e-waste is a growing global environmental and health issue and current trashing bans for various types of electronics don’t seem to be deterring anyone.

Last week Jean-Daniel Saphores, an applied economist at the University of California-Irvine, presented research regarding U.S. recycling rates at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Indianapolis. He surveyed 3,156 U.S. households and asked them how they had disposed of junk cell phones and how they intended to get rid of unwanted TVs.

At the time of his 2010 survey only California had legislation on the books regarding the disposal of cell phones and 13 states had laws that covered throwing away TVs. After looking at the disposal behavior of people across states he found no difference in how people got rid of their gear between states with e-waste legislation compared to those without it. Essentially, he found that state legislation is worthless.

“It opens the door to people driving from one state to another—not ordinary folks but some recyclers—to get money from say, California, where the goods were consumed elsewhere,” he says.

The toxic truth

Electronic waste from the U.S. often ends up in developing countries where workers at scrap yards, some of whom are children, are exposed to hazardous chemicals and poisons while looking for valuable metals. Along with elements such as gold and copper, anything with a circuit board contains toxic substances, including lead, nickel, cadmium, mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) or the chlorinated plastic, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), all of which harm the environment.

Jerry Powell, executive editor of Resource Recycling, says that of 1,352 e-scrap processing plants in the United States only 114 adhere to the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment.

E-Stewards says only 11-14 percent of e-waste is sent to recyclers—the rest ends up in landfills or is burned resulting in soil, water and air pollution. Of the e-waste sent to e-cyclers, 70-80 percent of it is exported to countries with lax environmental and labor regulations.

How to dispose of your old electronics

Saphores believes the solution is to make people pay a bit more when they buy electronics and give it back to them when they return the item to a store, just like people already do with car batteries. Unfortunately, doing so would take both political will as well as cooperation from manufacturers and retailers that may not want to complicate the consumer buying experience, he says.

In the meantime, there’s really no excuse for throwing your old PCs and other hardware away. Plenty of big tech brands offer local drop-off centers for old electronics, free shipping labels to send old tech gear back for recycling, or rewards for recycling such as coupons for discounts on future purchases. Here are several options—just make sure to verify that the manufacturer or retailer partners with e-Stewards-certified recyclers.

Otherwise, the Environmental Protection Agency runs an electronics donation and recycling site that offers links to resources. CEA, the consumer electronics trade association, also links to recyclers through its Greener Gadgets website.

If your hardware still works, you can always sell it. In addition to Craigslist, scads of websites buy used equipment or offer trade-up programs, including Amazon, Best Buy, BuyMyTronics, eBay, Ecosquid, Gazelle, and Glyde.

Just make sure to remove any data from a computer or mobile device before recycling or donating it.

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