Recycle Those Electronics: They’re Valuable and Toxic

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is any electrically powered product that is nearing the end of its useful life — think of items that have wires, batteries, screens or computer chips. E-waste is a growing source of waste worldwide, mostly due to computers and smartphones. In 2017, it’s predicted that up to 50 million tons of e-waste will be discarded — a 20 percent increase from 2015.

Not only is e-waste valuable because it contains metals such as gold, silver, copper and palladium, but it’s toxic, too. It contains harmful materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and flame retardants. These materials can leach out of landfills and accumulate in water, soil and food. This is why e-waste cannot simply be tossed in the trash — it needs to be safely processed and disposed of in special facilities.

When you sell, donate or recycle your e-waste, you accomplish two major environmental feats. First, you prevent toxic chemicals from polluting the environment. Second, by keeping existing materials in use, you reduce the amount of raw materials that need to be extracted to produce new electronics. Mineral extraction comes with its own set of environmental impacts, from high water and energy use to pollution from the refining process.

Here are some tips to consider before selling, donating or recycling your e-waste:

  • Have your device repaired, or upgrade the hardware or software on your computer to extend its life instead of jumping to buy a brand new product.
  • Is your device is still usable or repairable? Don’t recycle it — sell it or donate it, instead. It’s more eco-friendly for items to be reused than recycled.
  • Delete all personal information from your electronics prior to parting with them.
  • Remove batteries from your devices and recycle them separately.

Find out where you can safely dispose of your e-waste here.