When Appliances and Electronics are Involved, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” does not Mean “Gone for Good.”
In the early 2000s, when I was living at an apartment complex, I took the trash out to the community bin one day, but found the bin topped off with a pile of small appliances and electronic devices, including a TV, a DVD player, and a vacuum.
Beyond being mildly irritated that the bin was too overloaded to hold my trash, I was pretty shocked to see such valuable items just tossed away like that. I actually wondered if I should report the problem to somebody or something (I didn’t).
I also wondered why the electronics had not been given away to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, as I had been taught to do with discards as a child. I had no way of knowing whether the owner had carelessly dumped the stuff, or if the outrage was the byproduct of an eviction.
With a vague sense of guilt, I lugged my trash to another bin on the opposite side of the complex, assuming that someone who needed or simply wanted valuable cast-offs would pilfer the electronics before the garbage truck arrived.
However, the experience woke me up to the fact that over the decades of the electronics revolution, landfills were no doubt filling up with mountains of hard plastic, metallic, glass and chemical waste that would never bio-degrade.
I wasn’t the first to become concerned, of course. Environmentalists and public officials were already at work trying to solve the problem at the practical level. Some quick research on the internet led me to numerous municipal events in my area that allowed people to drive-in and drop-off their old electronics on specific days.
Many Excellent Solutions to the eWaste Problem are now Available to Consumers
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says:
“Donating or recycling consumer electronics conserves our natural resources and avoids air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by manufacturing virgin materials.”
In the wake of former Vice President Al Gore’s climate change wakeup call, the business of electronics recycling, or eCycling, has grown at both the public and private levels.
Most of us know that unwanted but working electronics can be sold via yard sales or on the internet.
The EPA also recommends that working electronics be donated to schools or charitable organizations. A giveaway to charity can usually be cited as a tax deduction.
Broken or obsolete electronics and appliances can be channeled through an official eCycling facility, so that materials and components can be broken down for re-use.
Precious Metals Commonly Used in Electronics Remain Precious even after the Devices are Discarded
eCycling is a particularly critical and intelligent approach to electronic waste management because, when handled properly and legally, the process involves the recovery of precious metals and other substances that can be re-used in new manufacturing.
The EPA reports that less than 4% of all hazardous waste was recycled in 2011 – but – that 4% consisted of “about 1.5 million tons.” 70% of the recovered materials were metallic.
While community sponsored eCycling events have grown through the years, many private eCycling facilities – wise to the fact that recycling precious materials can be profitable – have been established across the nation and operate every day.
To find facilities that will accept your electronics for recycling, check with your city or county governments, search for “electronic recycling” at Bing, Google, or Yahoo, or visit the EPA’s nationwide reference page, which provides links to state databases for licensed eCycling companies.
Some companies offer to pick up electronics for a small fee.
Others, like EcoATM, will even pay people for the privilege of recycling certain old cellphones.
Check with the product manufacturers, too, since many have set up trade-in programs for old phones and computers.
Remove all Personal Information from Devices before eCycling to Prevent Identity Theft.
Preston Galla’s article for Computer World, “How to Clear your Data off a Device,” provides instructions as well as information about available software that can be used to wipe data from both phones and computers.
(Special note: The EPA also advises that batteries be removed for separate recycling).
Incorporate Electronics Recycling into Routine Home Management Practices
Adding eCycling to the usual mix of home and garden maintenance practices is one way to make the process less of a hassle and more like just another chore. Set aside special storage space for eJunk, and make a plan for its disposal.
For my part, I’ve dropped off collections of eJunk three times since that day at the apartment complex trash bin.
At the first event, I found myself waiting in line behind a large number of cars. Multi-storied stacks of monitors, TVs, and CPUs walled the narrow driveway we traversed, slowly, one by one, to the offload area.
At a later event, I actually needed to dump five outdated, extremely heavy and bulky VGA computer monitors. The relief I felt over never having to lift those monitors ever again kept me lighthearted for months.
For my latest eClearance, I found a private company near my home in Los Angeles, Isidore Electronics Recycling, that agreed to take whatever I had to dump.
I filled up the car and drove over one afternoon, happy to finally cleanse my life, and garage, of what I can only describe as an embarassment of eClutter: everything from broken vacuums, space heaters and coffee makers, to an old stereo system, a boom box, a printer, several boxes of cables, charging cords, and phone lines, and a 25 year old microwave oven.