back to articles

Getting to Know E-Waste & What to Do About Yours

The images seem like something out of an apocalyptic movie. With a slow pan out, you almost expect to see Wall-E, the Pixar trash compacting robot, buzzing about.

Mountains of electronic waste (e-waste) plague our planet now. Every year 300 million computers and one billion cell phones are put into production. When these e-devices end their “useful life,” the mountain of e-waste continues to grow...indefinitely.

Why is E-Waste A Problem?

Simply? Because there is so much of it. And, over time, e-waste continues to grow.

By 2017, discarded e-products were 33 percent higher than in 2012. How much is this exactly? Think of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Huge, right? Now, multiply that single Pyramid times eight. All of this e-waste from one single year alone.

Broken computers, antique printers, trashed telephones, outdated cellphones, iPhones with shattered screens, damaged laptops, tablets, cash registers, stereo systems, DVD players, VCRs, coffee makers, and computer keyboards are the majority of what makes up e-waste around the globe.

While clearing e-waste out of your home may seem convenient (out of sight, out of mind), it’s important to understand the health risks associated with e-waste, detrimental to both humans and the planet. According to the World Health Organization, “E-waste-connected health risks may result from direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants, or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).” Dangerous heavy metals like these and flame retardants can foul up the planet.

When e-waste is burned for valuable assets like copper or gold, the air becomes more polluted. Toxins can leach out of e-waste, contaminating soil and water supplies. Plus, e-waste can lead to security breaches. “Unwiped data,” including bank accounts or medical records stored on a laptop or smartphone, can be a goldmine to any criminal or hacker. Before disposing of e-waste with sensitive data, make sure that these files are gone forever. Learn how to permanently erase data here.

“The Economics of Gadgets Encourages Disposal”

Changes in technology, in addition to increased consumer demand, contribute to the accumulation of e-waste.

As mentioned in The Atlantic, “the economics of gadgets encourages disposal.” So, the blame of e-waste doesn’t all fall on consumers. As tech companies develop newer technology, previous technology becomes outdated, like a cell phone charger that no longer “matches” the latest version of your smartphone.

The same thing happened with refrigerators, too. As companies phased out R-22 and Freon (a Montreal Protocol edict that should be complete by 2020), which contributed to ozone depletion, global warming, and increasing temperatures, homeowners were stuck at a crossroads. If their fridge happened to run on freon, should they buy a new fridge now? Or, wait until their current refrigerator becomes obsolete?

The ‘out with the old, in with the new’ adage and mentality prevails – which results in more and more e-waste.

What About Batteries?

Cars and other vehicles generally use lead-acid batteries, which can be jeopardizing to the planet if they’re thrown away with your pasta boxes and coffee grounds. Lead-acid batteries are considered hazardous batteries. Auto stores or dealerships will generally take old car batteries and know just what to do with them – oftentimes, they can be recycled into making new car batteries.

All sizes of household batteries like AA or AAAs should not be thrown in the trash, either. These batteries, made with nickel, cadmium, alkaline, and mercury, could be detrimental to the landfill.

Call2Recycle, a national organization spearheading battery recycling programs across the United States and Canada, also has a local guide. Input your zip code here and find where you can recycle your used batteries.

How Can I Trash My E-Waste Safely?

Change starts with you.

Before buying another coffee pot for your kitchen counter, consider what you’ll do with your old one. Do you really need a new one or do you just want one? If it’s broken, is there a way to fix it? Is there any lifespan left? Could you donate it? Perhaps, gift this “antique” coffeepot to your nephew who is moving into his first apartment? How else might you get creative and keep e-waste out of the landfill?

But, life isn’t perfect so if you have to toss your e-waste toss it responsibly.

Since you won’t be able to put your printer out with your weekly recycling pickup, look for community e-waste drives coordinated by local governments or police departments. Larger municipal recycling centers should have certain “e-waste days” or specific hours where they accept e-waste.

To keep things easy, have an e-waste storage system in your house (like a brown box in the garage) where you collect e-waste items. Every six months or so, take in the e-waste items you collect to dispose of them responsibly.

For any e-waste, including washers and dryers, refrigerators, and televisions, buy-back programs, re-sale, or donating those items that still have a lifespan are other popular choices. Amazon’s Trade-In option is one way to see what your smart technology might be worth, whether you’re deciding to upgrade to a new phone now or keep the one you have – even for just a little while longer.