Devices considered “electronic waste” include monitors, computers, tablets, cell phones, printers and scanners. Computer peripherals such as chargers, keyboards, mice, and speakers or anything that attaches to a computer for external use is also classified as such. In addition televisions, stereos, video game consoles, telephones – anything with a circuit board or screen is included. In Maine, it’s illegal for a business to dispose of electronic waste in the trash. It must be recycled. The components used in circuit boards, screens and batteries include a lengthy list of nasty chemicals and metals. Mercury, lead, and cadmium are just a few of the heavy metals, and flame retardant chemicals and plastics used in electronics are also a concern, particularly when incinerated. When improperly disposed of, these chemicals can damage the environment in serious ways.
How to Recycle
So how do we deal with all this Electronic Waste? First – BE SURE TO REMOVE YOUR DATA! Before disposing of computers, phones or anything with storage capabilities, have all data removed. For phones and handhelds like iPods, resetting the device to factory defaults is also recommended. After removing your data, recycling is the next step. For a homeowner, school, non-profit or businesses with less than 100 employees, it’s free, you are considered a “covered entity” which entitles you to free electronics recycling. There are local drop off locations that participate in Maine’s product stewardship for e-waste, which helps to cover the cost through manufacturer support. Some local drop off locations may charge a small fee – check with your local municipality for more information. A second option is through a waste disposal company. Many offer a program to pickup your unwanted devices and dispose of them properly, for a fee. Some companies even specialize in this area – and offer to remove your data and provide a certificate proving this was done (which may be a regulatory requirement, depending on the industry the equipment was used in).
Besides removing hazardous waste from our landfills, what other benefits come from electronics recycling? Gold. Silver. Copper. These precious metals are present in all electronics. Recycling a million cellphones will yield almost 50lbs of gold, not to mention the silver and copper. Plastics can be reused to manufacture lawn furniture, non-food containers or many other goods. Recycling is an inexpensive way to recover materials that can be reused in manufacturing new electronics. Recycling aluminum only uses 10% of what it takes to mine new aluminum. The same goes for other materials contained in electronics – it takes much less energy to obtain recycled materials than it does to manufacture new. Sometimes electronics can be reused. Cell phones and tablets, for example, might be used in whole or for parts.
When you upgrade to a new tech gadget, think about properly disposing of your old device. For more information or to find a local recycling location, visit http://www.maine.gov/dep/waste/ewaste/