2.6 Million Tons of Electronic Waste

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2005 the U.S. alone generated 2.63 million tons of discarded computers, monitors, televisions, and other consumer electronics. More than 87% ended up in landfills or incinerators, and only about 330,000 tons were recycled. So-called "e-waste" is the fastest growing portion of our waste stream.

Many people don't realize that in a lot of places it is illegal to throw items such as CRT (tube) monitors in the trash because they contain toxic substances. CRT monitors, for example, contain four to eight pounds of lead apiece. LCD monitors have much less lead but often more mercury from the mercury lamps.

The Computer Take Back Campaign, an organization which promotes health and well being of electronics users, workers, disposers, and their communities, says some groups estimate that 50% or more of electronics gathered for recycling are actually shipped overseas for dismantling under unsafe conditions.

While the European Union is leading the way by requiring manufacturers to be responsible for disposing of electronics waste they produce, many companies are trying to do the right thing here in the U.S. For example, Sony recently announced a new recycling initiative, while HP has been recycling in some form since 1987 and designing environmentally friendly products since 1992. HP has even demonstrated a concept printer based on cornstarch plastic, which would be biodegradable. APC, a leading UPS manufacturer, includes a prepaid return receipt with replacement batteries so users can ship the old battery back for recycling.

The problem of course will continue to grow as older PCs, cell phones, monitors, and the like become outdated. The Computer Take Back Campaign says that the FCC mandated transition to HDTV in 2009 is one such example, since families are expected to replace many existing televisions to receive the new signals. Some estimate that, in total, one billion electronic items will be discarded in the next five years.

What can we do? ITS will accept old computers and monitors, and sometimes other equipment, to take to a recycling center for a small charge. Plan to recycle old batteries and other electronic items rather than discarding them in landfills. The Computer Take Back Campaign also has links on its web site for recyclers that meet their approval.

August 2007

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