Guest Post: Repurposing, Recycling And Properly Disposing Of Old Electronics

I am taking a quick blogging break this week and am pleased to offer you a guest post on this timely subject.

Consumers can repurpose many items that are no longer needed. Plastic food containers and glass beverage containers can easily be repurposed into storage for other materials. Most repurposed items fill a secondary use that is similar to the original use. Under these conditions, repurposing is not difficult.

Photo credit: Jeff Myers

However, the repurposing of high-tech gear, which is often called e-waste, is not so easy. An old television is almost useless for any other purpose. In 2000, U.S. consumers sent more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste to landfills. Most electronics contain small quantities of toxic materials in the semiconductors and batteries. When these materials are placed into a landfill, they can leach toxins over time. The risk always exists for landfills to contaminate surrounding soils and groundwater.

Sometimes e-wastes are incinerated. This disposal technique is even worse than burying the devices in a landfill. When electronics are burned, they release heavy metals and other toxins that can enter the food chain and accumulate in living tissue.

New life for old gadgets
Before disposing of your old electronics, consider repurposing them. The best way to repurpose any high-tech gadget is to increase its useful lifespan. This is difficult, because high-tech quickly becomes outdated. Consumers want to replace old devices with smaller, faster and more powerful counterparts, and often, older technology will not be able to perform anywhere near the same tasks. A common solution is to send the outdated equipment to developing nations. This approach definitely increases the life cycle of the products, but it also creates a new problem. Developing nations are unlikely to have appropriate hazardous waste facilities for e-waste, and the equipment may pose a greater environmental threat in these areas when it ultimately stops working.

Many organizations within the U.S. direct old computers, televisions, cell phones and other electronic devices to areas of poverty within our own country. The devices are provided to people who could otherwise not afford them, and they can be properly disposed of when they cease to function.

Schools and training facilities are ideal repurposing points for electronic devices. In these organizations, the useful life of the devices is extended for their intended purpose. They often are then used to teach repair techniques when they stop working. Many states have e-waste recycling programs that assist in the identification of organizations that repurpose or recycle electronic devices.

Photo credit: epSos.de

All good things must come to an end
The time ultimately comes when electronics no longer function. It is usually cheaper to replace them than to repair them, and this is why so much e-waste ends up in landfills. There are, however, better methods of disposal.

Many electronic devices contain parts that can be reused after the device as a whole stops working. Consumers should search for organizations that recycle electronics rather than simply throwing them away. Many retailers accept old products when new ones are purchased and send the old products to specialized recycling organizations.

Many communities offer periodic collections of electronic wastes. By using these special collections, consumers can ensure that e-wastes are disposed of properly and do not simply become buried in a landfill.

Jennifer asks: How do you dispose of e-waste? I use my electronics as long as they function to minimize waste. My cell phone is now over six years old!

Andrew is a Community Coordinator who helps people find parts from ApplianceHelp. He’s passionate about DIY, whether it be in tech, food, or brewing.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by EcoCatLady on 05/07/2012 at 11:22

    Well, my first response is that the best solution is to use as few electronic devices as possible. Trust me, life is soooo much easier without a pile of blinking boxes demanding your attention 24/7!

    My other strategy is to upgrade existing devices. At the risk of being labeled an old school geek, I’ll confess that I still use a desktop computer. I bought this one back in 2007 and when parts die, I just replace the part instead of the whole thing. So far I’ve replaced the power supply, hard drive and video card on this system. I’ve also upgraded the operating system. On my last computer I replaced the motherboard, CPU, and most of the components several times before it finally got to the point where the old case just couldn’t be upgraded further. It’s really much cheaper and easier than going out and buying a new system every few years.

    But, when things do eventually die, or get so outdated that they are not really usable, I’ve had great luck giving things away on FreeCycle. Seriously, I’ve had people eager to take old CRT monitors, non-functioning battery backups, even dial up modems!

    When that fails, my local Goodwill store has a e-waste recycling program.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Stephanie on 05/07/2012 at 16:55

    I too use devices as long as possible by having them repaired or replacing components rather than junking them and buying new ones. But when they’re beyond repair I drop them off at the Household Hazardous Waste facility for my county. It’s free, and they will recycle them for me.

    Reply

  3. Recycling those old electronic parts is a remarkable idea for making better use of resources yet there are some stuff that would not belong in the recycling category. Yet, proper disposal and management are to be observed at all times if this would be the case. People should think about of a win-win situation when discarding stuffs.

    Reply

  4. Posted by annestaley19 on 02/20/2014 at 05:16

    Hi,
    It’s really nice article which talks about efficient & Effective use of resources.
    Jeniffer, usually I do dispose of my electronic gadgets at nearest scrapyard recycling companies. It helps me to earn extra bucks as well as do the bit for the society. I shall suggest others to do the same.

    Reply

  5. Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle. That is be best policy🙂

    Reply

  6. Most cell phones can be mailed in to free recycling services. E-waste items generally contain precious metals and rare earths. These materials can be harvested from the electronic items. Even ink cartridges contain expensive metals although very small amounts. Companies that set up to get the metals out economically can accumulate good amount for resale of to put back into their manufacturing process. Because gold is so malleable, a tiny amount can be used for high performance circuits. As time goes on the amount of electronic items made and sold will put such a strain on these needed materials that we will HAVE to engage in strict recycling.

    Reply

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