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The Heart of Responsible E-Waste Recycling

Electronic equipment can represent a serious threat to the environment, and the population, if disposed of incorrectly.

E-waste is the fastest growing segment of waste in the industrialized world. It annually demands as much transportation as a line up of delivery trucks halfway around the planet.

Recycling your devices helps you keep your house and enterprise free from e-waste clutter, contributing to a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment. Disposing of e-waste correctly is of paramount importance today. Both as conscious individuals, and as a part of an enterprise, we need to be responsible for the damage our discarded devices are causing to the environment. Responsible e-waste recycling means being careful about where we take our e-waste, understanding who is going to be dealing with it, and making sure we find a reliable channel to the end-of-life (EOL) products.

Standards and certification We may think that we decide to support recycling, and everything goes right. Yet, not every electronics recycler follows environmentally sound practices. For this reason, legislation has been established to differentiate the responsible electronics recyclers and refurbishers from those who are doing illegal recycling that contaminates the planet, and puts human lives at risk.

Recyclers and refurbishers can become certified. An independent third party audits and certifies that they possess available standards on responsible recycling practices. This is highly recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which also encourages all consumers to choose only certified recyclers. The EPA provides with all the needed information on Certification Programs for Electronics Recyclers.

Where has all the e-waste gone? If we don't take all the necessary precautions to assure the correct disposal of e-waste, things could get really ugly. To have a clear understanding of the risks that e-waste represent, I insist that you invest 13 minutes of your time watching this investigative journalism documentary made by 60 Minutes. The video shows what happens when recycling is not properly done, and when authorities are involved in masking the truth. Not only the planet and the environment are at risk, but also the health and life of human beings exposed to the toxics. This is what happens when US e-waste illegally travels to landfills in China, where it is illegally dismantled.

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How much can be saved The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, “Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.”

This is in the US alone. Imagine how much could be saved worldwide. The only requisite is that it has to be done by ethical recyclers.

“For every million cellphones we recycle, we can recover 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.”

Here it is when responsible recycling takes a special role to avoid that the phones will fall into the wrong hands, and become victims to those who will exploit human beings for pennies in exchange of doing the dirty job, as we have sadly seen in the documentary above.

EBN's recycling challenge There is a big difference between the amount of unused electronics devices, and the number that are actually recycled. According to Nokia’s latest study on the topic, only 9 percent of people recycle their old phones. In fact, about 44 percent of unused mobile devices are sitting forgotten only gaining dust in the bottom drawer, or in an equally forgotten box in the attic; sadly, that's how I have mine. I am sure I am not alone here. This could change if we all at EBN take action recycling at least one unused device this summer. What do you say, are you up to the challenge?

18 comments on “The Heart of Responsible E-Waste Recycling

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 19, 2013

    For the recycling to be done by proper people and with proper methods, it is necessary that the end consumer is given a proper incentive to return the product to the original manufacturere or its authorized distributor for recycling.

    Many times the value offered for an old product is so negligible that the owner of the product feels it is better to just throw it in the garbage rather than taking the trouble to return it for recycling.

  2. SunitaT
    June 19, 2013

    According to Nokia's latest study on the topic, only 9 percent of people recycle their old phones.

    @Susan, thanks for the post. I am surprised that only 9 percent of people recycle their old phones. I think one of the main reasons why people dont recycle their old phones is because they are not aware about the advantages of recycling. I hope electronics manufactueres will take new initiatives to bring awarness among users.

  3. SunitaT
    June 19, 2013

    it is necessary that the end consumer is given a proper incentive to return the product to the original manufacturere or its authorized distributor for recycling.

    @prabhakar_deosthali, good point. Giving incentives when users return their old products will definitely encourage more and more users to participate in recycling programs. But end users should also understand the benefits of  recycling. If they realise the importance of recycling then I am sure they will paritcipate in such programs irrespective of whether they will receive any incentive or not.

  4. Tom Murphy
    June 19, 2013

    The metals alone make recycling worthwhile. If 1 million cellphones containt 75 pounds of gold, as the blog suggests, that alone is worth $1.8 million.  Imagine how many millions of phones are discarded into landfills each year — enough to make you rich beyond your dreams.

  5. SP
    June 19, 2013

    E-waste recycling industry must become as important and big as product manufactring. Its time we start giving importance to waste recycling else this planet will be difficult to live.

    Just on the similiar line in India there is a big problem of handling waste, people dont understand what is organic and inorganic and just mix everything and all kinds of waste gets dumped together on the road and that leads to filling the landfills. If every household takes few minutes off from their so called busy schedule and put kitchen or organic waste separately, newspapers and all kinds of papers recycled, get plastic and metal to recyclers, Ewaste to appropriate recyclers streets will be so clean and the environment will also be.

    Things changes when individuals put in effort.

  6. elctrnx_lyf
    June 19, 2013

    The governments should take up more initiatives to educate the citizens about the hazards of not recycling the electronics in a right way. Even though so many NGOs are taking the lead in the end it is legislators responsibility.

  7. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 19, 2013

    @Tom,

    “enough to make you rich beyond your dreams.”

    Not if you are thousands in the recycling business and it takes thousands of dollars to extract the metals. But anyway it may be worth it for big recycling companies.

  8. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 19, 2013

    @elctrnx_lyf,

    The governments do have an educational role to play in promoting recycling awareness. And many state gevernments are indeed involved around the world through specialized local programs. But I do believe that most of work and “pressure” should come from NGOs that I believe would do a better job than the governments. 

  9. Redding McLemore
    June 20, 2013

    The NGO's are focusing on the toxic effects of recycling, often with a focus on melting down or using acid baths for the products to extract base metals.  This is certainly important.  A different issue, plausibly even more important to the industry, is the “recycling” of compnents from the electronic devices to make counterfeit components for sale on the open market.  The value of the countereits outweighs that of the reclaimed metals.  This drives our industry to address yet a different, and even more complex problem.

  10. micromays2
    June 20, 2013

    Ms Fourtane – you were hitting all the right points with standards and certification and then (unfortunately) your research stopped.  The 60 Minutes piece is nearly 4 years old and was a wake-up call to the industry and electronic product manufacturers.  A lot has changed since then and I would have been interested in learning about the effectiveness of regulations and voluntary participation by recycling processors in the certification programs.  Also check out the February 2013 study conducted by the U.S. ITC on the issue of Used Electronic Product exports.

  11. Tom Murphy
    June 20, 2013

    Hospice:  There are some very innovative companies out there that are recycling the metals from phones.  Yes, it takes investment, but once the systems are in place, the rewards are considerable. There are a LOT of phones to recycle out there…not to mention laptops and other devices containing precious metals.

  12. _hm
    June 20, 2013

    This is an interesting organization with high moral and love for mother earth:

    http://www.terracycle.com/en-US/

     

  13. ehcaneda
    June 21, 2013

    I agree on every points that Susan mentioned. My question is how much do the company spend for recycling and segregation of these wastes. We know there is fortune in every waste but does that compensate to the cost invested on recycling?

    I'm sure some of companies already look into this.

     

  14. SP
    June 21, 2013

    elctrnx_lyf: I strongly feel its individual's responsibility to make sure all the different categories of waste goes to appropriate recyclers. Especially in countries like India where you cannot expect Government and legislation to do the things. If everyhouselhold makes sure their organic waste gets composted or turned into biogas, Ewaste goes to right ewaste recyclers things will change. Its our attitude that we pay taxes so let municipal government take care of. But the amount of population India has and kind of governance we have its important for people to take care of these social issues.

     

     

     

  15. SP
    June 21, 2013

    NGOs quite often feel the financial pressure. Also attracting good manpower to get the things done is another issue. Its time Recycling industry gets the position it deserves. It will also be helpful if every electronics manufacturer also makes a recycling unit so consumer knows where to drop the Ewaste and also its guranteed that its getting recycled with safe process.

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    June 22, 2013

    @tirlapur,

    Most consumers are not aware that they ought rececle their old phones while some do not see it as their problem either.

    What is in there for consumers when I buy the phone and also make sure it get recycled when its old.If something tangible is not attached to it to attract consumers, the manufacturers may find this a little to do.

  17. Lavender
    June 23, 2013

    As Susan said what most people do with their phone is to let it stay in the bottom drawer, due to the accelerated component obsolescence and upgrading of electronic products, we are also ramping up leaving more phones in drawers. This case is especially serious and common in young people. 

  18. Anand
    August 2, 2013

    E-Waste recycling is a challenge due to its inhomogeneous nature. There are a diversity of particle size distribution, shapes and materials with an enlarged pressure for recovery. The CP Group has risen to the occasion, leading the industry with advanced technology and features to overcome challenges faced.

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