Electronic waste consists of electronic devices that are near or at the end of their useful life.
As technological advancements continue, and companies adopt an “out with the old, in with the new” frame of mind in order to compete in their competitive industries, electronic waste has become a serious problem.
Globally, businesses and individuals generated an estimated 49.8 million tons of e-waste in 2018. That figure is expected to grow each year by 4 to 5%.
The United States alone tosses 9.4 million tons of electronics every year.
What exactly is electronic waste, and what types of waste are most common for your workspace? Below we’ll explore these questions, as well as how to properly dispose of it so that you can ensure the electronics your company uses do not leave a heavy toll on the environment.
Also known as e-waste or end-of-life (EOL) electronic devices, electronic waste includes a wide variety of products.
At home and in the office, examples of electronic waste include:
Many manufacturing and industrial settings produce a significant amount of electronic waste, from circuit boards to power supply units. In hospitals, e-waste streams may include lab equipment, computers, servers, tablets, and televisions, to name a few.
Even though the United States tosses more than 9 million tons of electronics every year, only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled.
What makes e-waste so dangerous? According to the World Health Organization, e-waste is connected to several health risks, especially if someone comes in direct contact with the heavy metals and other materials often found in electronics.
In California, the law states non-functioning cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) from pieces of equipment like computer monitors and televisions are considered hazardous as well because they contain lead. Even computers and television screens can contain leaded glass.
Batteries found in electronics can contain cancer-causing elements, such as cadmium, lithium and lead, and appliances like hot water heaters contain mercury switches. Mercury, in particular, can cause serious health issues like respiratory and skin disorders.
When improperly disposed of, these substances can accumulate in soil and water, causing the absorption of hazardous chemicals and the creation of by-products that can negatively impact human health.
However, many electronic devices also contain several valuable elements, such as gold, silver, copper, cobalt, and others. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1 metric ton of circuit boards can include up to 800 times the amount of gold that is mined from 1 metric ton of ore.
It should be no surprise then that experts estimated in 2016 that recoverable materials from global e-waste were worth more than $64 billion. Yet, only a fraction of those materials were recycled and instead were dumped in landfills.
Adding to the challenge of managing e-waste is that the lifespan of electronic devices is decreasing. Because companies often plan for this by requiring electronics to have updated software to function properly, discontinued older models are discarded.
Often, it’s even more cost efficient for a company to buy a completely new product than to repair the one it has.
It almost seems inevitable that the discarding of electronic waste will continue and grow as technology continues to evolve. However, there are procedures you can put into place to ensure your electronics are safely disposed of or enjoy a longer lifespan.
The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery recommends that companies use a “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” approach. This approach urges companies to:
To properly dispose of your e-waste, certified hazardous waste companies that specialize in e-waste will manage the recycling of your electronics.
Not working with a reputable company can result in disastrous consequences for your business, since you are subject to local, state and federal regulations regarding disposal of e-waste. In fact, in 2017, national retailer Big Lots paid more than $3.5 million in California to settle allegations it disposed of e-waste in a landfill.
Certified technicians not only know the legal regulations you must follow but have expert knowledge in the different handling procedures for different electrical units.
E-waste encompasses a wide variety of electronics, from the phones that you use every day to computers, appliances, lamps and circuit boards.
There are no indications that the trend to replace equipment with their fastest and most up-to-date versions will change anytime soon. That’s why properly disposing of recycling electronic waste is critical, since so many pieces contain substances harmful to human and environmental health.
It’s also important to keep in mind that many electronic products store sensitive data. Before recycling your equipment, be sure to remove any sensitive information from its memory. Software professionals can assist with cleaning off your drive.
You can read more about proper e-waste disposal and the variety of electronics subject to waste disposal laws in our article, How To Recycle Electronic Waste.