What Is E-Waste, Exactly?
Watching the incredible technological advancements that develop each year, it’s clear that we are living in an increasingly digital society that relies upon many electronic devices for our day-to-day existence. From cell phones and laptops to tablets and smart televisions, we are surrounded by electronics for communication, education, entertainment, and more.
But it’s hard to keep up with the pace of innovation. Almost as soon as we acquire a new device, it has been replaced with an updated model. Within a few short years, that once cutting-edge technology becomes borderline obsolete. So we transition to the next version and the next, often overlooking an important question:
What happens to all the old electronics we are replacing?
Unfortunately, most of these electronics end up unsustainably discarded, contributing to a rising issue known as “e-waste.”
What Is E-Waste?
Put simply, e-waste is a category of waste electronics that have reached the end of their so-called “useful life.” These outdated or unwanted devices are also referred to as e-scrap or end-of-life electronics and represent a growing percentage of waste filling landfills around the world.
E-waste can include a broad range of both consumer and business electronics, such as:
- Laptop and desktop computers
- Cell phones and tablets
- Gaming systems
- Stereo equipment
- Office appliances (i.e., copiers, printers, etc.)
Though it may seem easier to simply dispose of such items in favor of new models, many older electronics can be reused, refurbished, or recycled for a more sustainable solution. And in fact, it’s becoming increasingly vital to handle our old devices responsibly, as the uptick in e-waste has serious ramifications for our global ecosystems.
The Environmental Impact of E-Waste
Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a growing trend toward green initiatives and eco-friendly recycling practices. However, e-waste has been largely flying under the radar — despite its potentially hazardous impact on the environment.
Many electronic products contain components that are harmful or even toxic when disposed of irresponsibly, allowing chemicals to leach into surrounding soil and water sources. These compounds can include contaminants such as lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, all of which have dire health repercussions. As the EPA reports, exposure to these contaminants can lead to “irreversible health effects, including cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished IQs.”
But despite the significant risk to human health and environmental safety, the handling of these e-waste components is often lax, if not outright negligent. Access to safe electronics recycling or disposal is poorly communicated or advertised in many areas, making it difficult for the average consumer to follow best practices when discarding a device. Even major businesses and corporations don’t always know how to handle upgrading and replacing current electronics, sending whole departments’ worth of electronics to landfills.
The overall impact is staggering. Estimates by the EPA suggest that in 2009 alone, US consumers and businesses discarded e-waste totaling 2.37 million tons — and a mere 25% of this amount was taken for recycling. That means roughly 1.78 million tons of e-waste were haphazardly disposed of in landfills and the like, where the hazardous materials could not be managed and reusable precious metals could not be used in new devices.
Again, these statistics date from 2009. Since then, the problem has only escalated. More recent estimates suggest that the worldwide disposal of e-waste may now number up to 50 million tons per year, only 12.5% of which is recycled. In the US, e-waste is now the fastest-growing municipal waste stream and accounts for 70% of toxic waste overall.
So, what can your organization do to reduce your e-waste and environmental impact? To start, let’s revisit some of the basics of recycling and conscientious waste disposal.
E-Waste and the Three R’s
To prevent potential environmental fallout from e-waste materials, it’s essential to follow appropriate disposal measures or fall back on the classic “Three R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Since its conception — perhaps around the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 — this famous eco-slogan has become a rallying cry for environmentalists and a staple in primary school curricula. Even today, as our recycling needs evolve to deal with e-waste, these three R’s can help us make better choices when discarding electronic goods.
We cannot halt the tide of invention, nor should we. But there may be occasions when a single, multi-purpose device can satisfy more than one user need, reducing the demand for numerous electronics at home or in the workplace. When the opportunity presents itself, consider investing in one multi-use electronic device rather than cluttering your home or office with many single-purpose devices.
Even if an electronic device is no longer useful for you or your business, it may yet have value to offer elsewhere. If it is in good operating condition and has been safely cleared of any sensitive data, consider electronics donation programs in your area. Such programs can put your gently-used devices into the hands of those who need them most, such as underprivileged schools, students, or job-seekers trying to reenter the workforce.
Some computers and other electronics can also be resold or traded in for credit towards a replacement. If you’re interested in resale opportunities before you decide to recycle or discard, reach out to our team at First America Metal Corps. (FAMCe). If reselling your devices is an option, your devices will undergo a thorough data destruction and testing process prior to being resold. You may even qualify for our revenue share program based on the age and value of the assets.
When it comes to combating e-waste, electronics recycling is perhaps the best method available. After all, not every device can be reduced or reused. However, many components can be recycled to be used in new products, even if the device itself is no longer functioning. For example, many electronics contain precious metals which can be melted down to recover pure gold, silver, palladium, and copper.
How E-Waste Is Processed for Recycling
Instead of allowing valuable, reusable components to go to waste and dangerous compounds to contaminate our ecosystem in landfills, responsible e-waste recycling protects our environment, preserves resources, and helps reduce our overall carbon footprint.
One of the most pivotal elements of this process is separating plastic housings and frames from metal components and internal circuitry. By thoroughly and efficiently sorting these materials, electronics recyclers can preserve limited commodities and make sure they go to good use.
The specifics of processing will vary depending on the recycling facility. Some facilities may simply elect to use hand dismantling techniques to recycle electronics. This results in the cleanest output materials destined for further recycling. Others shred electronics with powerful shredding and sortation systems. This method processes significantly more electronics but results in a lower quality of output materials and yields a lower percentage of recycled materials compared to hand disassembly.
After separation, recyclable materials such as precious metals are prepared for use in new manufacturing. And this is no small savings for our environment. For example, every million cell phones recycled produce roughly 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. This conservation of resources reduces wastage, materials shortages, and the need for additional mining.
In essence, e-waste recycling empowers your company to make positive changes as part of ethos-building green initiatives while still ensuring your old electronics are disposed of safely and securely. By partnering with a reputable electronics recycler, you can guarantee that your end-of-life electronics are handled carefully, with all recyclable materials harvested for resource-saving recycling and all hazardous materials disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.
E-Waste Recycling You Can Trust
The issue of e-waste is a thorny one, we know. When the time comes for you to dispose of your electronics, you may not know where to turn. And even when organizations go the extra mile in an effort to discard their electronics responsibly, some unscrupulous disposal agencies outsource their overflow of e-waste to areas with less oversight, such as developing countries, where they can be discarded without following the proper environmental protocols.
That’s why it’s crucial to partner with an electronics recycler you can trust, with the processes, expertise, and certifications to back it up.
At First America Metal Corp. (FAMCe), we don’t cut corners. Our team is committed to reducing the environmental impact of e-waste through reliable and thorough recycling services. All of our employees undergo extensive and continual training to provide you with industry-leading service in our fully-controlled recycling facilities.
At FAMCe, not only do we offer recycling services you can trust, but we add value to your experience with asset management reporting and certified data destruction — so you know that your data privacy is protected from start to finish. Even businesses in regulated industries can feel confident working with our recycling professionals, with guaranteed destruction of proprietary device elements.
Don’t let your electronics fall into unprincipled hands or end up in a landfill. FAMCe is here with bulk recycling services that are easy, convenient, and dependable. With multiple certified locations across the US, we are ready to partner with you to meet and exceed your e-waste recycling needs.
Ready to become part of the e-waste solution? Just contact our team today to learn more!