In some parts of the world, throwing away environmentally toxic e-waste is illegal. While other parts may still be sorting it out on the policy side, the risk remains – improper electronics disposal with or without legal/societal intervention is hazardous.
If you know that e-waste isn’t supposed to go straight to the trash, then good on you. However, you could also be facing a storage dilemma – some parts of your house may be stashed full of all sorts of e-waste. You could have drawers filled with cables or boxes of old gadgets and batteries you just can’t drop off anywhere.
So, what do you do with e-waste if you can’t easily throw it all away? Here’s what you should know first.
All About Recyclers and Recycling in Other Countries
In most cities, the sanitation department is entrusted to handle e-waste. You might think dropping off your junk with them is the easiest solution, but it’s not. There’s always some demographic of “recyclers” – no matter how small – present in urban places, and they make their presence known to you via social media, events, or printed advertisements. For example in LA, companies such as G & P Recycling Center, Venus Recycling Center, and RePlanet Recycling are highly rated in Yelp.com, making them a convenient go-to place for anyone who wants to recycle.
Recycling is inherently good for the environment. Some recyclers, however, disguise potentially disastrous practices under the good intentioned label of recycling. Take this recent case in the UK, for example. Under a government-led scheme, companies can pay for “recovery evidence notes” and this will let them fulfill their recycling obligations. However, because the implementation of the scheme isn’t done properly, some of the recyclers’ processes don’t actually meet the standards. In short, much of the garbage still ends up in landfills and continues to add to the pollution.
Then there’s the case of developing countries, where laws for the workforce and environmental protection are loose or absent. Advanced nations often ship their e-waste off to these places, inflicting potentially irreversible damage to the environment.
Why does this happen? The reason is almost always economic. Affluent countries are not willing to handle the costs of proper e-waste management. Luckily for the planet, there are watchdog organizations doing their best to monitor where different e-wastes go.
The consequences of improperly handled e-waste is not pretty, and lots of people around the world really suffer as a result. We can’t just rely on governments to fix this problem in the short term. Every citizen should be vigilant about where their recycled waste goes.
As of now, it’s not too late to act. Here’s how you can help on your own, while a sustainably effective worldwide solution is still being worked out:
#1 – Know about E-Steward certifications and the departments/groups that are certified.
This certification comes from the Basel Action Network (BAN). It goes to groups that don’t ship off e-waste to offshore toxic pits. Your task is to look out for recyclers with the E-Steward label on their websites.
#2 – Find waste recycling events or pickup drives and share the word.
It’s best to transport and dispose of your e-waste using paper bags or anything other than plastic. Encourage others to do the same – the more people who know about proper e-waste management, the better.
#3 – If you’re having trouble finding certified groups, use different “find a recycler” tools.
You can try visiting BAN’s website, or use the power of Google to pull up the results. Friends or family might also be aware, so go on social media prowls as well. Tip: Every Staples store willingly accepts e-waste. Here’s a list of items they accept for free recycling.
#4 – Seal anything that’s broken or has broken glass in separate containers.
This is to prevent leakage of toxic chemicals. Sturdy boxes are often the go-to option for this. Just make sure you place any absorbent material in the box before you place the item. Don’t forget to wear latex gloves too and temporary face masks for your protection.
#5 – Know that not all e-waste is equal in terms of hazardous effect.
Electronic devices that store huge sums of data, like computers and hard drives, are best cleaned internally before disposal. The harmful effect found here is the possibility of your personal information falling into the wrong hands. You don’t always have to worry, however, since E-Steward groups include the destruction of data during the recycling process.
#6 – Know your e-waste well.
Batteries that are recyclable are alkaline. Mercury-based ones, on the other hand, need to go through a separation process. Single-use batteries need to be recycled like rechargeable ones, except that the latter contain harmful corrosive acids. Electronic toothbrushes only need their batteries properly disposed, as you can recycle the rest of them as you would other recyclable items.
Light bulbs that contain mercury, particularly fluorescents and CFLs, also must be disposed responsibly. Light bulbs can be recycled by waste collection agencies or mail-back services like Think Green from Waste Management. And don’t hang on to your incandescent bulbs as they’re non-toxic.
Battery drop-offs are more common, so you can try checking them out. You can also try urging your workplace or your home to subscribe to a more convenient battery-recycling service. Collection sites are also provided by Best Buy and Battery Solution, while some retailers maintain a partnership with Call2Recycle.
More Ways You Can Help
Green movements are common in the global scale, yet we still face impending effects of improper e-waste management. The core issue may seem more like a political concern, and indeed it is. Still, there’s no excuse not to act – the longer we wait for authorities to sort it out, the more we contribute to the existing hazards of e-waste.
The most impactful thing you can do for the proper e-waste management movement is to familiarize yourself with collection points in your area. The National Environment Agency has made it easier for people to locate them – this map shows all of the ongoing recycling programs throughout the world.
You can also get involved in volunteering. There are many drives groups that need the extra manpower. If you’re a student, you can try suggesting educational forums or voluntary collections to your school. Remember that the more involved you are, the more likely your friends, family, and peers will follow your example.
If you’re ready to serve the environment with the right attitude, then anything you commit to doing can help improve our conditions.