Every year in the U.S. millions of computers, laptops, televisions, fax machines, and other electronic devices become obsolete. Accelerated advances in technology and an ever-increasing demand for new and better features has severely decreased the life expectancy of most electronic devices. The result is a growing challenge for people, businesses, and local government to find a way to properly dispose of their e-waste.
Precious metals, steel, and plastics are some of the materials used to make electronic devices that can be recycled. These materials can be separated, refined, and then reused to make the latest and greatest electronics we use today. Reusing these materials also conserves our natural resources as well as reducing the energy cost of producing new products. However, many hazardous materials like lead, chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, and, zinc are used to make your favorite electronic device. If placed in a landfill, these materials can contaminate the soil and local water supplies and lead to severe health problems.
Hazardous Heavy Metals
Lead - is used in glass in TV and PC cathode ray tubes (CRTs) as well as solder and interconnects. The glass from CRTs can contain up to 7 pounds of lead. Since CRTs are no longer being manufactured the lead must be removed from the glass before either can be reused, a very costly process.
Mercury - is used in light bulbs to illuminate flat panel televisions, computer monitors, and notebooks.
Brominated flame retardants - are widely used in plastic cases and cables. Over exposure to bromine can have the same effects as lead or mercury poisoning.
Cadmium - is widely used in NI-CAD rechargeable batteries for laptops and other portable electronics. Cadmium has the lowest permissible exposure limit among commonly used heavy metals.
Some facts about electronic recycling
- The U.S. now disposes of 300 to 400 million electronic devices each year. Only 20% are disposed of and recycled properly.
- The EPA estimates that 120,000 computers are thrown out every day in the U.S.
- E-waste makes up 2% of the trash in landfills, but it accounts for 70% of the toxic waste.
- Consumer electronics is the fastest growing waste stream in the world.
- 1 ton of circuit boards contain the same amount of gold as 17 tons of soil mined from the earth.
- The amount of energy needed to operate a computer for 5 years is 10% of the energy needed to manufacture it.
- Compared to disposal, computer reuse creates 296 more jobs for every 10,000 tons of material disposed of each year and costs 75% less.