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Don’t Let Your Waste Go to Waste

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As you know, electronics become obsolete very quickly. I tell my clients to be careful not to create a museum of their journey through modernity. Devices sitting in drawers and basements cause no harm, except taking up valuable real estate in your home you could use for other purposes. However, electronic devices tossed in the trash that are sent to the landfill and devices incinerated do cause harm. Electronics contain many toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These toxins can leach into groundwater especially in older landfills built before leaching safeguards. Incinerators can release toxins into the atmosphere.

As people migrate to smart phones the hope is that a lot of devices like PCs, cameras, cell phone, and GPS devices would be recycled. But that is not yet happening. The EPA recently released the report, 2009 Facts and Figures On Municipal Solid Waste, the latest statistics available. The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. ends up in our landfills and incinerators, with only 17.7 percent going to recyclers.

The best de-acquisition method is to bring your castoffs to a Responsible Recycler (RR) in the E-Steward Program. RR’s will repair electronics and donate them to charity for use or to sell to raise funds for their programs. These programs help place your electronics products into the recycling stream by refurbishing the device or giving it back to the community, either to schools, charities, economically disadvantaged or disabled citizens of your community. These efforts benefit both the environment and your community. You can even get tax deductions for donating your working electronics to schools or charities.

If the electronics are beyond repair, they can be re-manufactured, a process that extracts valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, and platinum. In fact, a whole new industry is flourishing called ‘urban mining.’ A ton of circuit boards contains 40 times the concentration of gold typically found in ore mined in this country. The yield for copper is 30 times richer than copper mined in the U.S. So, recycling, in addition to keeping electronics out of the landfill, holds promise for metal extraction without the expense and dangers of mining. RR conducts metal extraction in the U.S. where safety and health regulations protect the workers. “The dirty little secret is that when you take your electronic waste to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80% of that material very quickly finds itself on a container ship going to China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, or Pakistan”, says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment. In foreign countries, the “recycling” process is often nothing more than poor people with hammers smashing circuit boards and exposing themselves to toxins that cause brain damage, liver damage and other serious health problems.

EcoSquid is like a Kayak for gadget recycling. Type in gadget type, quality, and equipment specs and EcoSquid finds the best service to buy, recycle, or repurpose your gadget. To sell your electronics, go to Gazelle.com or BuyMyTronics.com.

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