Addressing the eWaste Problem

by Katie Mindess, Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston

We are a culture that loves and relies on our electronics.  Everywhere you look people are on cell phones, laptops, iPads and other handheld devices.  These products help us stay connected and work more efficiently.  Without electronics you would not be able to read this post!  The speed in which new technology hits the market is undoubtedly impressive.  According to GreenPlanet.com, cell phones are replaced on average every 14-18 months.  While having the latest features and designs are alluring, we need to ask what happens to discarded electronics?

Between 20-50 million tons of electronic products are discarded each year, ending up in landfills, exported or incinerated. (Greenpeace.org)

Unfortunately, just tossing our electronics aside has serious consequences.  Electronics contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, hazardous chemicals and PVC plastic.  When not properly dealt with, electronics can leach these chemicals into the ground and air affecting the health of the environment, wildlife and our own health.  For more information, check out this article, What's In Electronic Devices?

Luckily, there are many resources and programs to encourage and aide in e-cycling.

To help reduce the amount of e-waste you contribute, there are a few things to consider:

A) Do you need this new product?     Or     B) Are you replacing a product you                                                                             already own?

If A:

Research your options…

o How long will it last?

o Is it repairable? 

o Who makes it and how?

o Will you be able to recycle it?

If B:

o Does the product still work?

     - Can it be repaired?

          - If no, locate an electronic recycling company

When replacing your electronics, consider finding a new home for it.  Many non-profits, schools and other organizations will make use of the less-than-up-to-date products.

A starter list of companies making an effort to re-circulate, reduce, and recycle e-waste:

- Verizon HopeLine, “puts the nation’s most reliable network to work in the community by turning no-longer used cell phones into support for domestic violence victims and survivors”

- Apple Recycle Program

- Staples Eco Easy Program

- Ethicalelectronicsrecycling.com

- Best Buy

Proper disposal of electronics can be complicated and confusing.  However, the EPA recognizes two accredited certification standards: the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and the e-Stewards® standards.  So be sure to check if your recycling company is certified in either.  ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) is the organization that accredits certifying bodies in the United States.  They provide an updated list of which certifying body has attained accreditation to which standard (EPA.gov).

Katie Mindess is an intern with the Sustainable Business Leader Program.  She can be reached at katie@sbnboston.org.


email: sblp@sbnmass.org    |    phone: (617) 395-0250

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