With the switch from cell phone to smart phone, VCR to DVR and answering machine to voice mail, it's no surprise that e-waste is a fast-growing category of waste filling our landfills and being burned up in our trash incinerators. Not surprisingly, e-readers, laptops, iPhones and other electronics make up one of the biggest and fastest growing categories of holiday gifts. But electronics are made up primarily of components that can be recycled, and improper disposing can lead to pollution of air and water.
Unfortunately, as of the EPA's latest analysis, more than 80% of electronics are trashed rather than recycled. Compounding the problem is this: Some supposed recyclers have been shown to be fraudulent. Instead of stripping down computers and phones to their constituent parts for reuse, they were dumping much of the waste in third-world nations, where the poor were left to pick through for valuable bits, exposing themselves to toxic pollution in the process.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using only e-cyclers certified by one of two third-party groups, e-Stewards or R2 (which stands for "responsible recycling"). Be aware that two prominent watchdogs on this issue, Basel Action Network and Electronics Takeback Coalition, back the e-Stewards program but loudly criticize the R2 program. (Everyone agrees that a recycler claiming to be legit based on an "EPA number" is not presenting adequate credentials.)
At least 25 states have e-waste laws to compel responsible recycling, and several retailers and manufacturers, like Dell and Best Buy, have been praised by advocates for their efforts to boost e-waste recycling rates. Congress is considering new legislation to tighten e-waste export restrictions, and both advocates and many prominent retailers and manufacturers are strongly in favor of it.
Remember, before you recycle, consider reuse. While that television or desktop computer may no longer be of use to use, it may well be of use to others. Look for opportunities to donate your devices, give them away using services like Freecycle, or try to trade them for cash; many computers and phones can be traded in or sold. No matter how you dispose of your used electronics, clear private data thoroughly and discontinue any service contracts before handing it over. When you buy new devices, complete the circle by looking for products made from recycled materials, like the Samsung Replenish.
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