What do you do with yesterday’s hot new cell phones or sleek computer when you’re ready to move on to one that’s even newer and cooler? With new models of TVs, phones and computers rapidly make older models obsolete, the resulting waste is creating serious environmental and public health problems. Recycling used electronics (eCycling) is one solution.
Why Recycle Used Electronics?
- To keep waste out of landfills. In 2007, 1.84 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products were disposed of in landfills, while 414,000 tons were collected for recycling. (US EPA)
- To protect your family’s health. Electronics contain toxins such as lead and mercury that are released when they begin to break down in landfills. For example, older-style TVs and computer monitors can contain up to 6 pounds of lead each. These toxins can leech out of landfills and into surrounding areas. Recycling prevents this from happening by keeping materials in safe use.
- To conserve natural resources. Recovering and reusing the valuable materials that make up your used electronics reduces the amount of additional natural resources needed to make new ones.
When you’re ready to move on to your upgraded TV, phone or computer, there are several options for recycling your used products.
- Look for an electronics or household hazardous waste recycling event near you. Contact your local town or city to find out when they offer such recycling events. Links are provided below for Erie and Niagara counties.
- Some local nonprofits, such as Haven House and the Buffalo Zoo, collect cell phones for recycling. Cellphonebank.org offers a searchable database of cell phone drop off locations. Many Erie County libraries also recycle used cell phones – contact your local library to find out if they are participating.
- Many retailers such as Best Buy, Office Max and Home Depot offer recycling services for customers. Earth911 offers a tool to search for recycling centers in your zip code.
- Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can be recycled at Home Depot locations.
- Coming Soon! New legislation passed in NY State requires manufacturers of consumer electronics to also start recycling these products. Look for new opportunities to recycle electronics in the coming months.
Should I worry about Identity Theft if I Recycle My Computer?
Many recycling services provide the added benefit of cleaning data from your computer before it is reused. Find out if this service is offered where you are taking your computer for recycling. If not, it is recommended that you use a disk-cleaning software product to remove personal information from your hard drive. Even if you have deleted files and emptied your trash folder, data may still be on your hard drive.
More about Toxins in Electronics
Toxic materials (chemicals and heavy metals) contained in electronics include: lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and chlorinated solvents. As a result, some electronics (such as color CRTs computer monitors, color CRT TV tubes, and smaller items such as cell phones) qualify as “hazardous” under Federal law.
What Else Can I Do?
Recycling is one thing you can do at the end of a product's life cycle. You can also help from the beginning by making an effort to purchase “greener” electronics, by purchasing refurbished electronics, and by replacing items only when you really need to. Consider investing in products that are built to last, products that contain fewer toxins, or products that are made by companies that use green practices.
Green Peace offers a tool to compare toxins and green practices used by different electronics manufacturers.
Erie County - Computer Recycling Information
Niagara County – What to do with things that can’t go in the recycling bin (including electronics)
U.S. EPA “Plug-In to eCycling” Partners List shows retailers and manufacturers, what they will recycle and how to get it to them.
U.S. EPA “WasteWise” Electronics Challenge – Links to national databases and directories and websites with general information about recycling.
TechSoup’s “GreenTech” provides information on reducing your environmental impact and saving money by recycling and reusing electronics.
Consumer Reports “Greener Choices” Electronics Reuse and Recycling Center offers solutions for dealing with your old computer, cell phone, TV and other electronics, plus tips for buying new electronics that may last longer. You'll also find information about the growing problem of e-waste and what government and industry are doing to address it.
Sierra Club’s “Green Home” offers home recycling advice and a searchable tool to find recycling locations near you.
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition - promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.
Do you have a tip, suggestion or question to share on this important topic? Leave a comment below!