What's the problem with e-Waste?
Electronic Waste (computers, other technical devices) presents a staggering challenge. Tom Arnold, our friend and founder of GreenT Services, a company that helps IT departments to safely dispose of their eWaste, sent us the following data to help us understand it's magnitude: Electronic waste represents only 2%‐3% of landfill volume but 60% of the toxicity. Nearly 500,000 personal computers reach end of life every DAY. The average life span of a computer used to be 6 years, now it's only 2.
How much waste is this? To give you an idea, there are 57 million computers and TVs sold in the US alone- in 2005, that represented about 6 billion pounds of e-waste in 2006. Only 12.5% of that was recycled- the rest become landfill waste or incinerator ash- the lead, and many other chemicals from these products may get into ground water and be diffused into the air. Watch this 60 minutes report for more information.
You may be surprised to hear (as we were) that there is currently no federal legislation on eWaste. Many states (16 at last count) have adopted regulations requiring proper disposal of thees products- and they are all different. Only in 2008 did congress convene a working group on the subject. The US is the only developed country in the world that hasn’t signed the Basel Accord to protect undeveloped countries from having waste from developed countries dumped on them. The European Union passed the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive Act. This requires manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling their products after consumers discard them.
In the meantime, what can individuals do?
1. Shop Smarter: If you're buying new equipment, check out what your vendors are doing about e-Waste. Apple's new line of MacBooks contain no arsenic, or mercury, use 41% less packaging, and represent the state of the art in eco-consciousness in the computer industry. Also look for take back programs and point of purchase returns and collections.
2. Donate: You can find an organization willing to disassemble, rebuild and use parts to compile usable equipment. Many of these are training and charitable organizations. Newer equipment (less than 5 years old) for direct reuse by needier people.
3. Recycle: If your item is obsolete (printers, monitors, older phones) or broken, and you're throwing it away, either wait for a municipal event, like e-Waste day in the spring, or find a collection facility near you. If you live in California, find a location or recycler here. Earth 911 has a GREAT directory- you enter what you have and your zip code and they'll tell you where to go. US EPA has a great information on retail partners who are helping in the effort, like Best Buy.
Are you a business owner?
If so, you probably have a lot of obsolete electronics stacked up in a closet or a storeroom somewhere- 80% of businesses do. Securely and safely disposing of this, while protecting your business information, can be a challenge. Check out GreenTServices for more information on how to properly end of life your business equipment.