With so many devices being introduced into our mainstream culture, it’s easy to see why we could be looking at a future where the United States is simply drowning in e-waste. The fact is, it can be hard to know what you should do with your old electronics – donate them or recycle them?
According to Waste Management, the average American generates more than five pounds of waste every day. That number is staggering when you consider how much it costs for trash disposal, with an average cost per person in the US being $526 a year!
It is a sad truth that the United States of America wastes up to 60% of its resources, and that number includes all resources (from natural to human capital). In our current society, we are failing on many levels, and this is just one example of where we can make a change for the better.
“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States and can pose serious environmental and health problems here and around the world when not handled properly.” -Gene Green
The good news is, that you can do your part by ensuring that what would have been wasted ends up being reused or recycled instead of ending up in a landfill.
The first step in solving any problem is identifying the issue at hand and doing something about it! Read on to learn more about how you or your company can help reduce e-waste in America by following some simple steps outlined below.
What’s in E-waste?
E-Waste or electronic waste describes electronic devices or electrical appliances that are discarded—used electronics destined for reuse, resale, refurbishment, or salvage recycling.
Notebooks and Flat-panel computer monitors often contain mercury in their bulbs. Cathode ray tubes are also present but not always at dangerous levels – on average, one pound per TV or monitor is safe enough. However, any amount over 4 pounds can lead to toxicity when released into the environment.
E-Waste Facts and Stats in the USA
The United States is dumping an increasing amount of electronic waste each year, but less than 20% is recycled. In 2005 alone, we discarded 47 million computers, making up just 2 percent of total Toxic Waste in landfills!
This trend increases exponentially as processing power increases every two years, so there will be even more old computer abandonments within the next few decades unless something changes soon. For example, if we decide to recycle thousands of cell phones, we stand the chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are equivalent to taking over 1000 cars off the road for a year and a half.
Minimizing waste helps conserve resources and reduce carbon emissions from mining more metals such as aluminum or magnesium for old devices like yours when they’re already mined out at current rates by companies who don’t want them anymore!
Upcycling old cell phones is a great way to reuse all the precious metals and plastics in them, and it would save as much energy as flipping off 24,000 US homes for an entire year! The average American household has one electronic device ready to be disposed of, but this could fill almost five football stadiums with electronics waiting their turn at recycling centers. Here is what you or your company can do:
- Re-evaluate Before Purchase: you don’t need an additional gadget, instead go for devices with multiple functions.
- Extend The Lifespan of Your Electronics: keep your device clean and case and avoid overcharging batteries.
- Go for Bio-Friendly Electronics: go for products certified by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) or labeled Energy Star.
E-waste Legislation Regularly
The European Union banned the disposal of e-waste in the 1990s, and current laws are in place to hold manufacturers responsible for its proper treatment. Large amounts have been sent overseas where the environmental standard makes processing more profitable, and so far, 80% has come back across international borders to America alone!
There is currently no federal law regulating this issue except at the state level, which means 24 out of 50 states still allow some form of recycling or take-back programs, but only if they pass specific legislation that was first introduced last year by the California Senate.
Bill 595 requires that all retailers who sell products containing lead-acid batteries discarded within six months must provide an education program on how to handle hazardous material. Before you point your finger at the other side of the aisle, make sure to consider that e-waste recycling is a bipartisan issue.
For example, 2019’s “Secure E-Waste and Recycling Act” (SEERA) was introduced in both houses with a Democratic sponsor as well as several Republicans who have signed onto this important bill focused on limiting export types after it was revealed that counterfeit parts were found among Air Force cargo planes back in 2012.
The input contains information about different bills being proposed because people from all over care about improving these environmental concerns.
SEERA has ensured that we aren’t exporting e-waste to other countries, most notably China. By stopping this flow of waste beyond our borders, US companies reduce the risk of it coming back in as counterfeit goods, potentially becoming part of a supply chain for military electronics and threatening national security.
Sad Facts About E-waste
The facts you want are below; after learning something new today, be sure to take a new course of action!
- 80% of E-waste in the U.S. Exported to Asia
- 71% of U.S. E-waste went into Landfills
- Only Approx. 13% of E-waste is Recycled
- The retail industry is throwing away 2.37 million tons of outdated consumer electronics every year! The average person throws out 21lbs (9kg) worth of their stuff when they go shopping. Still, these items can be reused over and again if you know where to look, so this staggering statistic should maybe make us think twice before heading straight for “recycle” without exploring other options first?
- It’s no secret that electronic waste is a huge contributor to landfills. It represents 2% of all trash but equals 70% (or more) of toxic material overall! Efforts need be taken both at home and abroad to reduce this amount drastically so future generations don’t have as much difficulty with clean-up efforts when there are finally enough people around again who can help out after such tragedy strikes.
- Approximately 20-50 million metric tons of electronic waste are generated worldwide annually, and it’s only getting worse.
- 80% of companies in Europe have a responsibility for their recycling as the law requires them to! The remaining 20%, however, send this precious material offsite, where huge piles lie waiting until someone sorts through all that plastic or sorted metals looking for something saleable – which could take forever sometimes.
- Americans waste over $60 million in gold and silver every year by throwing out cell phones! The average person throws away 18 pounds of precious metals from their old phone.
- As it turns out, most of what is labeled as “e-waste” can still be used and even recycled for materials recovery.
- The 12.5% statistic is a little scary. According to EPA estimates and UNEP statistics, a report by Waste Books says only 12.5% out of 100 tons of e-waste are recycled globally despite being one the most common items. In 2020 we needed at least 508 million metric tonnes or 454 billion kilos for proper recycling. Still, right now, there are about 262 million leftovers from last year’s production, which doesn’t mean anything good when you consider how rapidly technology advances, – every day, more people rely on old devices like computers, desktops, laptops, cell phones, cameras, game consoles, music players, etc.
- If you’re thinking about getting rid of your old cell phone, don’t forget the precious metals inside! Every 1 million phones recycled can recover up to 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium.
- By donating or tossing away a used device and letting someone else take advantage of the energy that goes into them, you could be saving 3657 homes in America with an annual usage equivalent as well. Recycle 1 million laptops? The savings, on the one hand, would be enough for over 2 thousand homes.
- The EPA reports that e-waste is still the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America, according to data from 2012. The US is throwing away more and more items with electronic components each year.
- It would take 530lbs of fossil fuel, 48 lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture a computer as well as monitor- an amount that is not insignificant!
- You may be surprised to learn that electronic items can be hazardous. These include, but are not limited to: Televisions and computer monitors containing cathode ray tubes; LCD desktop monitors, or televisions with an LED display (a type of flat panel monitor). Plasma television sets also fall into this category, as does a portable DVD player that has an LCD screen – all three types have the potential for fire damage when mishandled!
Is Recycling the Answer?
Although this sounds like the cornerstone for handling e-waste responsibly, it has some adverse effects on the environment. Eliminating precious and reusable metals from an electronic device is inherently toxic. And most times, when products are discarded during recycling, they end up in Africa, Asia, South America, and India, based on a report by the United Nations. Considering the harm, recycling e-waste is a less motivating factor in most countries since those who break down this waste expose themselves to more risk.
E-waste Recycling Facts
With the need to reduce our use of natural resources and increase recycling efforts, e-waste is an attractive yet problematic product. Its complete toxic materials make it difficult for recyclers or consumers on disposal policies with strict regulations about what can go into landfills – meaning this type of waste will likely be around for a long time to come!
The current solution to e-waste is not ideal, as it only recycles a small percentage of these products. The major issue with the process? Toxic materials like lead and cadmium can leak from old TVs or computers into other components that are then put back together again without being fully protected by shielding schemes. This can potentially damage human health if they come into contact while sorting out recycling bins.
Thankfully, companies have started developing neutralization tanks where toxic metals such as aluminum cans enter an acid bath before natural decomposition.
In the US, it’s estimated that people generate around 20kg of e-waste each year. In 2017, 2 million tons were generated, including televisions, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, stereo systems, phones, and computer equipment, with much being thrown away without regard for its future use or recyclability; this also poses environmental concerns.
Companies Should Create Products with Prolong Lifespan
Laptop maker Framework is producing a modular Windows laptop with swappable parts. It has the look of a MacBook, but unlike Apple products that notoriously can’t be repaired or upgraded by their owners, nearly every part on this sleek design could easily get replaced to prolong its life span, which makes it an ecofriendly alternative for those who are constantly upgrading and replacing technology.
It’s not just laptops either; other electronics like cell phones have become more durable because sometimes things break down before two years old! This means you might only need one phone instead of investing money into multiple devices.
The Framework Laptop might not be the first attempt at modular electronics, but it’s one of few that succeed. In 2015 Google announced Project Ara and promised to release this phone within two years with an open development environment in mind–but then abruptly ended production without issuing any official word as to why.
Big Companies Should take Big Step Toward Embracing Change
For all the money Apple makes from their products, they are still very much supporting sustainable practices. The company has recently decided to stop including chargers and earphones with some devices as an effort towards environmental responsibility while also cutting down on waste that can be avoided by not having these extra accessories sold separately outside of packaging!
The e-waste crisis is a problem that has to be solved by technology companies. The power lies within them, and they should make sustainability measures part of their business model.
Amazon has not put as much energy into recycling electronics because they are more focused on creating relentless demand. The real power of change lies with tech companies who can create new ways for manufacturers and consumers alike to get rid of old products responsibly through their recycling programs instead of relying solely on a third party.
Tech giants like Samsung should put more of their energy into recycling old devices and creating global business models that benefit everyone rather than just Americans or Chinese citizens only.