Mountains of Misfit Electronics

December 24, 2012

It’s that time of year again: the holiday season. A time of giving and receiving gifts, many of which will be new electronics. Out with that “old” phone, game console, TV or laptop, and in with the new! Right?

Of course there is an underbelly to our collective delight in keeping up with the latest technologies: mountains upon mountains of e-waste. In the U.S. alone, nearly 400 million pieces of electronic equipment and devices are disposed of each year – that’s 2.5 million tons of e-waste – most of it ending up in landfills or incinerators, polluting our water and air. Hundreds of thousands of tons will be identified for recycling, only to end up on container ships, exported to developing countries like China and Uganda, which lack regulations to protect workers or the environment.  Children in communities near these crude recycling operations have been photographed playing atop mounds of exposed circuitry or in contaminated soils, testing off the charts for toxic compounds like dioxin or lead.

In fact, a trial finally began this month after a 60 Minutes investigation in 2008 led to so-called sustainable, responsible recyclers illegally shipping their e-waste to China. Our friends at the international electronic waste advocacy group, Basel Action Network (BAN), informed the investigation.

But there’s good news: It is now easier than ever before to find responsible recyclers that dispose of e-waste safely while repurposing all the bits and pieces that can be given new life as other products. Products collected under the e-Stewards program are taken to an approved recycler who has agreed to follow the highest environmental standards. E-Stewards partners ensure no materials that are hazardous to the environment or to human health are allowed to enter landfills in this country or abroad. The e-Stewards program is also partnering with Best Buy and Staples to responsibly recycle old or unwanted computers and televisions. There are so many ways to go!

So, be merry. Enjoy this time of giving and receiving new toys. And take that easy extra step to be sure the old ones don’t end up in landfills. This may be the best gift of all: protecting the beautiful planet we all share.

Happy holidays!

– Kim Fuqua, Program Specialist


* Image used by Creative Commons Permission via Sham Hardy and M for Matthijs.