How to (Properly) Recycle Electronic Waste

Also known as e-waste or e-scrap, electronic waste refers to the trash generated from broken and obsolete electronic devices, such as laptops, televisions, fax machines, etc. After spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on the latest electronic gadget, we swear to take good care of it to make it last for years to come. The problem is, manufacturers continue to develop new and “better” devices every year. This entices people to keep reaching for the latest technology. After a year or so, manufacturers phase out old models by not offering updates or making them difficult to repair once broken. It is their way to force us to spend money on new devices and earn profits.

How It Affects the Environment

Improper disposal of e-waste can have horrible consequences on our environment.

With the rapid advancements in technology and the use of electronic gadgets, e-waste is considered to be the largest, growing waste stream. Our constant need for the latest, high-tech gadgets has contributed to the mass amount of e-waste today. The amount of e-waste generated worldwide is expected to exceed 50 million tonnes by 2020. Like household waste, the growing amount of e-waste would cause a huge impact on our environment.

Old electronic products can be reused, refurbished, salvaged, or recycled, but they should never end up in landfills. E-waste contains hazardous and toxic materials, including lead, beryllium, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants, that are harmful to human health and the environment if not disposed of properly.

Take a look at the table below:

E-Waste Component Process Used Potential Environmental Hazards
Cathode ray tubes (commonly used in televisions, ATM, video cameras, computer monitors) Shattering, detaching, and dumping of yoke Heavy metals (barium, lead, and strontium) can seep into the groundwater and release toxic phosphor.
Printed circuit board Desoldering, removal, and disposal (open burning and acid bathing to remove metals) of computer chips Fine glass dust particles, brominated dioxin, beryllium, cadmium, lead, tin, and mercury can be discharged into natural water sources and emitted into the air.
Chips and other gold plated components Chemical stripping and chip burning Discharging polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), brominated flame retardants, and heavy metals into rivers can be deadly to marine animals. Brominated dioxins, PAHs, and heavy metals can also be emitted into the air.
Plastics from keyboards, printers, monitors Cutting and using low temperature to melt plastics Emission of hydrocarbons, brominated dioxins, and heavy metals into the air.
Computer wires Copper removal through stripping and open burning Release of PAHs into the air, soil, and water.

E-waste releases toxic chemicals that can contaminate the soil and kill vegetation.

  • Effects on Soil – The problem with e-waste is that the chemicals released are not biodegradable and can persist in the environment for many years. The chemical composition of e-waste depends significantly on the type and age of the discarded item. In most cases, e-waste consists of a combination of metals, like copper, aluminum, and iron, and covered with plastics and ceramics. When e-waste gets thrown out into landfills, it releases toxins, which can eventually leach into the soil and groundwater, and affect both land and sea creatures. Additionally, soil contamination can lead to loss of vegetation.

When discarded electronics are heated, they release harmful toxins that damage the atmosphere.

  • Effects on Air – Heating up E-waste releases toxic chemicals into the air and damages the atmosphere. Landfill scavengers look for improperly disposed electronic devices and parts, such as televisions, wires, and laptops, to recycle and make money from them. They burn the wires in the open air to obtain the copper, releasing hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. This causes various airborne diseases and air toxicity, making the air unhealthy for breathing and living.

Toxic e-waste materials can also affect water sources, killing marine life.

  • Effects on Water – Improper disposal of heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, barium, and lithium, can seep into the soil and reach groundwater and run to surface waters. Contaminated water exposes plants, humans, and land and water animals to lead poisoning. Exposure to carcinogenic chemicals increases your risk of different types of cancer.

Recycling E-Waste the Right Way

Let us help save our planet by recycling e-waste properly.

The Global E-waste Monitor reported that Canada is among the world’s worst e-waste offenders. This claim was supported by a 2016 report from the University of British Columbia that Canadians produce about 725,000 tonnes of e-waste every year and only 20 percent is recycled properly. Moreover, the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling predicted that the amount is expected to increase and by 2025, Canada, alongside the United States, will cumulatively generate 9.25 million metric tonnes of e-waste.

Luckily, recycling can help reduce the growing amount of e-waste. In addition to reducing pollution and conserving landfill space, electronic waste recycling allows us to recover valuable metals and materials. For instance, recycling a million smartphones helps salvage gold (75 lbs.), silver (772 lbs), copper (35,274 lbs.), and palladium (33 lbs).

By recycling old electronic waste and other environmentally harmful devices, you keep them out of the landfill. The Canadian non-profit Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA) has programs that help save 100,000 tonnes of old electronics out of landfills every year.

Here is what you can do to help save the environment through proper e-waste recycling:

  • Find a Certified E-Waste Recycler – There are several recycling of electronic waste processes available out there, but you need to find one that is safe and effective. One of the most eco-friendly ways to recycle is to find a Basel Action Network (BAN)-certified e-waste recycler who is committed to recycling e-waste safely and responsibly. BAN members have pledged and demonstrated their dedication to the Pledge of Responsible Recycling. This will give you peace of mind that your broken gadget will not add to the current global pollution. However, you need to be extra cautious before recycling your old electronics.
    • Delete and format all your personal information from your device before donating or recycling.
    • Remove the battery from your devices before getting rid of them.
  • Sell Your Old Device – It is true that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Instead of throwing your outdated electronic devices, why not sell them off on online sites, such as eBay and Craigslist? You can also have a garage sale to earn some money. There are also electronic shops that will buy old devices.
  • Donate Old Gadgets – Sometimes, reusing is better than recycling. If you no longer need your old gadgets, why not share them with others who might need them? You can donate your old laptop to an NGO or school. Simply use the right organization or find a business that accepts electronic donations.
  • Visit Civic Institutions – Inquire with local government, schools, and universities for any responsible recycling programs. With the growing problem of e-waste and improper disposal, various government offices and schools have started assigning certain dates when citizens can bring and drop off their used or broken devices in designated drop-off areas.
  • Give Back to Electronic Companies or Drop Off Points – Many electronic companies offer an exchange policy where customers can return their old electronic devices and will offer them a discount when they purchase a new one. Some recycling companies have electronic drop off centres for outdated cell phones and tablets. These old products will then be recycled.

Electronic devices have become an important part in our everyday life. However, you should be a responsible e-waste recycler. Instead of adding to the growing amount of e-waste, be a part of the solution. By helping reduce e-waste, you help make the Earth a safer place to live.

Baleforce Recycling Equipment is your one-stop shop for the most efficient way to bale recyclable materials. We have a complete line of recycling balers of different sizes to meet your needs. Call us today at (416) 235-1900 or 1-855-235-1900 to learn more about our products.

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