October 14th is International E-Waste Day, 2022, a day when leading experts, producer responsibility organizations and the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Forum call on households, businesses and governments to get behind efforts to get more dead, obsolete and surplus plug-in or battery-operated products to facilities where they can be either repaired for reuse or recycled to recover valuable materials and reduce the need for new resources.
While Earth Day highlights the broad spectrum of issues which affect our environment, E-Waste Day targets almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply. The definition is very broad and is broken down into six categories. The categories have different lifetimes, waste quantities, economic values and potential environmental and health impacts. Consequently, collection and recycling processes differ, as do consumers’ attitudes and knowledge regarding their disposal and recycling. This year's theme, "Recycle it all, no matter how small" focuses on the collection of small devices together with their adapters, cords, cables and other miscellaneous parts.
E-waste Is the Fastest Growing Segment of the Global Waste Stream
In 2020, the Global E-waste Monitor reported that an estimated 53.6 million metric tonnes (MT) of WEEE was generated in 2019. That represented a 21 percent jump in the five years since 2014, with e-waste on a predicted course to hit 74 MT by 2030.
Global e-waste generation is therefore growing annually about 3 to 4 percent, a problem attributed to higher consumption rates of electronics, shorter product lifecycles and limited repair options. Historically, tech companies have accelerated the pace of obsolescence by manufacturing products which batteries can’t be replaced, newer devices that won’t accept old cables, and software upgrades that won’t run on older devices. Consumers are purchasing the latest models in anticipation of 5G networks.
E-Waste Contains Hazardous Waste
As with all manufactured goods, the extraction of the raw materials and the energy used in manufacturing the new products have the greatest negative environmental impact. For example, eighty-five percent of the greenhouse gases produced by smart phones comes from the production cycle, in particular from what is used to create motherboards and various chips.
But unlike other recyclables which decompose in the landfill (paper) or are inert (glass), electronics pose an environmental hazard when they are discarded. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that electronics are responsible to 70% of the toxic waste in landfills. Monitors contain heavy metals such as lead, barium and phosphorus. Lead solder is used to connect semi-conductors and wires to motherboards and chips. Printed circuit boards contain mercury. And cables and wires are coated with poly-vinyl chloride, a carcinogen when burned.
E-Waste Also Contains Precious Metal & Rare Earth Elements
However, in addition to hazardous elements found on the periodic table we were forced to memorize in high school (did I just date myself?), there are plenty of precious metals found in our electronics too. For every one million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
Smartphones also contain a range of rare earth elements (REE) – elements that are actually plentiful in the Earth’s crust but extremely difficult to mine and extract economically. REE’s are critical components of the computer chips, the graphics cards and the transistors used in virtually all electronic devices. They are also vital to produce many of the important green technologies – solar arrays, wind turbines and electric car batteries.
In 1993, China produced 38% of the world’s REE and the United States produced 33%. By 2008 China accounted for 90% of global production and just 3 years later they accounted for 97%. We’re all familiar with the admonishment “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” yet that is exactly what happened. When the pandemic disrupted world supply chains, many different sectors of the economy were brought to a halt due to the “chip shortage.”
Where Will These Reclaimed and Recycled Components Come From?
With more people working remotely than ever before, a lot of our electronic devices are gathering dust in unused offices. Most everyone agrees that the typical workday will no longer be 9-5 in the office but a hybrid of in-office and remote. Once employees and employers come to terms with this new reality, unused, surplus and obsolete office equipment should be properly managed by an experienced Information Technology Asset Disposition firm (ITAD).
Electronics Value Recovery is the perfect partner for an immediate project or a long term strategy to manage your obsolete and surplus electronics. We can refurbish and remarket your assets on consignment or outright purchase and recycle what no longer has value, all with rigorous data destruction and robust customizable reports.
Are You an Individual or Do You Have a Small Quantity?
In 2005, Maryland became the third state behind California and Maine to enact legislation to stem the flow of electronics to landfills. Computer manufacturers which sell their product in the state must pay an annual fee to fund local recycling programs.
Most Maryland county drop off sites only accept residential appliances and electronics, though a few accept commercial items as well, usually for a fee. The Montgomery County website is an excellent resource for what can and can’t be accepted as well as listing alternative options such as Earth911. Just be sure to call before you go to confirm location, hours and acceptable items. A number of the sites listed on various websites are no longer operational or have changed hours since the pandemic.
Another suggestion is to google “electronics recycling near me” and “community electronics collection.” Many organizations and jurisdictions host events as a public service or as fundraisers for a nominal fee or free-will donations. They are often held in conjunction with community shred days.
Electronics Value Recovery hosted several private collection events this year. To find out when we’re hosting public events next year, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for the schedule of events.
Remember, “it’s only waste if you waste it” according to the popular 1970’s slogan.
Twenty years later, the industry began replacing the term “waste” with “scrap.” Don’t waste this opportunity to clear out those drawers, round up those random chargers and old phones, and take them to a local collection site. Every little bit helps so “Recycle it all, no matter how small.”