What to do with old electronics?

Every year, electronics companies release a new generation of their “flagship” devices.  Maybe you’re waiting for the new MacBook or iPhone.  Maybe it’s time to upgrade your desktop or laptop.  Maybe your device is just broken beyond repair.  While most of our electronics find new a new home through Craigslist or eBay, there comes a time when every piece of electronic hardware no longer has any use (dial-up modems, VHS players, that PDA you used when Y2K was a thing).  It’s not just hardware either; cell phone chargers, USB cables, and old headphones all take up space in the landfill when they provide valuable materials to recycle.

Think about how many different pieces of electronic hardware you use during the day.  Chances are, if you’re working from a desktop at work or have one at home, you’re using a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, the actual tower PC itself and, in most cases, a pair of speakers.  The computer probably has an Ethernet cable and is plugged into an outlet in the wall that allows for access to the Internet.  From there, routers, modems, servers and hubs (both locally and across the country) become involved, and the amount of electronics you’re actually using begins to multiply exponentially.

Many of these pieces of hardware contain valuable materials such as copper, silver, and gold.  However, many electronics also contain things that are hazardous to the environment.  Old cathode ray tube televisions and computer monitors have brittle glass that, when broken, can shatter into dust-sized particulates that can carry lead and infect an ecosystem.  Older LCD monitors contain Mercury.  Circuit boards contain metals like lead and cadmium.  Plastic housings for computers and the coating on cables release dioxins and furan when burnt.

Most of what is considered Electronic waste (E-waste), isn’t actually waste at all, but have parts that can be resold or can be recycled for materials recovery. E-waste accounts for 70% of America’s toxic waste, even though it only accounts for 2% of America’s total waste.  It’s estimated that Americans throw away over $60 million dollars in gold/silver every year, just by tossing away old and outdated cellphones.  In fact, for every 1 million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered.

There are some things that need to be considered when you recycle your old electronics.  Make sure your process involves secure data destruction.  Secure data destruction means that the recycler ensures that any personal information left on the hard drive of your desktop, laptop, or any other electronic device is properly destroyed.  Usually, this involves a Department of Defense (DOD) wipe, or sending the hard drive through a commercial shredder along with a secure Chain of Custody process and a Certificate of Destruction.

So, the next time you upgrade, think about what you’re going to do with your old device.  Many of the local retailers you purchase these devices from have bins or “drop-offs” where you can safely dispose of your old electronics.  Taking the time to responsibly recycle your old electronics saves space in the landfill, prevents potential toxins from leaking into the ecosystem, and returns precious resources into the economy.

For more information on how to properly dispose of and recycle your old electronics, contact Papillion Sanitation.