We sometimes find ourselves coveting the latest smartphone or laptop. But what about that older model sitting in your pocket or at home? Where does it go? According to the EPA, in 2005 the U.S. generated 1.9 to 2.2. million tons of electronic waste (e-waste), but only 12.5% was recycled. Instead of simply tossing away an older model into the trash, there are ways to refurbish and recycle e-waste.
It’s more than just having an extra piece of clutter in your house to motivate e-waste recycling. Electronics contains materials that are hazardous, rare, and valuable. When improperly disposed, chemicals such as cadmium and PVC could re-enter the environment and our bodies, wreaking havoc on the immune systems of animals and humans. Countries have begun to pass legislation to increase e-waste recycling, if they haven’t already. For example, the European Union requires companies take back their electronics and properly dispose of them.
Refurbishing is slightly different from recycling. Rather than taking apart the entire machine, refurbishing entails replacing a non-working part or simply tweaking for return to the market. Sending an old electronic to be refurbished not only means the item will be mostly reused, but also one less new item produced with rare and hazardous materials.
For old cellphones, e-Cycle is one option, which recycles or refurbishes and erases all confidential information on the devices. They can also be donated and sent people living in developing countries, a particularly useful item in places lacking electrical infrastructure. Empty print cartridges can be donated to organizations such as schools and non-profit groups, which they can use for fundraising purposes. The EPA lists on its website places in each state that participate in e-waste recycling, as well as businesses that take used electronics.