How to Dispose of Electronics Without Hurting the Planet
The laptop you’ve used every day for the past several years finally gave up on you. There’s no use in getting it repaired, so you go ahead and buy a new one. Great, but now what do you do with the old one sitting around collecting dust? You want to just throw it away and call it a day, right? Wrong! Your laptop is one of the worst things to discard in a landfill. Why? Because many laptops are created using heavier materials and elements such as lead and mercury, which are not friendly to the environment. Cell phones are dangerous as well when dumped into a landfill, due to the buildup of metals and the effect on soil, as well as greenhouse gases emitted. In fact, in 2014, nearly 41.8 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide. That’s a lot of dangerous emissions going into the environment! E-waste, or electronic waste, is all discarded electrical or electronic devices. So, if you can’t throw those old laptops and cell phones in the dump, what should you do with them?
Check it out: What Is E-Waste? (Video)
First off, if you know you’re done using that laptop or phone for good, be sure to clear the data off of it thoroughly. If you are still able to save your hard drive, try to get all that data off of there and into the new computer. If you need to transfer data or upload it to the cloud, protect it with a VPN (virtual private network), which will keep it safe and keep you anonymous.
Next, before you get rid of those devices, think about what you can reuse. If there are any parts of your old desktop computer that could be of use for your new one, you can save those parts and save yourself a bit of money. Look for parts to salvage such as lithium-ion batteries, connectors, speakers, LED and LCD screens, CRT monitors, and even screws and bolts, which come in handy for versatile projects.
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Recycle, recycle, recycle! The correct way. Check with the original retailer on picking up the old equipment so they can recycle it. Dell will even come to your house to pick up that old desktop or laptop. Old iPhone you’re looking to get rid of? Sometimes Apple will give you 10% off your next phone if you bring in that old one for recycling. Staples will take nearly any electronic product for recycling, even if it wasn’t purchased at their store, to begin with. If you can’t contact Dell, go to an Apple store, or visit Staples, contact a recycling center directly and they will direct you to the right resources for properly recycling old electronics.
What Happens to Your Technology When Its Recycled?
So, you’ve handed your device off to the recycling plant or retailer. What happens now? Well in the case of a recycling plant, e-waste goes through special processing called WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) to ensure all valuable metal components are saved and removed from the device.
The first step is to remove all batteries and copper wiring by hand and sort out the devices. Inside nearly every laptop, computer, or cellphone, there are materials that have worth and are still able to be used elsewhere. It’s important to salvage these components when recycling electronics.
In order to do this, all electronic devices are shredded. After removing glass, batteries, and copper wiring from the devices, they all go through a large-scale shredder which breaks down the device so that it’s easier to organize and separate the valuable material components afterward.
Check it out: How E-Waste Is Recycled (Video)
Why So Much E-Waste?
If e-waste is such a global problem and hurting the environment so much, why does it continue to happen to the extent it does? One word. Consumerism. New technology is doled out almost every day. Essentially, as soon as consumers buy a new laptop or cell phone, its obsolete a year later and they’re back at the store to buy the next big thing. Electronics get upgrades every year or so due to the current pace of technological development. This is why e-waste has caused such a problem specifically in the last 10 years.
Roughly every 18 months, the average American gets a new phone. That also means that every 18 months, cellphones end up either in the proper recycling system or the dump. Of these cell phones (among other devices), 60% of it will end up in a landfill, where the toxic materials and chemicals pollute the environment.
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When consumers don’t know how to fix issues that they have with their electronic device, they may just throw it away instead of dealing with the hassle of getting it fixed or learning how to fix the problem themselves. Instead, they will find themselves throwing away a fixable device and walking out of the store with something new. E-waste is not solely an American issue either. There are plenty of countries around the world that lack the number of recycling centers and resources needed to accommodate technological development and consumer purchases.
Proper Disposal Checklist:
1. Backup important files and documents
2. Wipe your hard drive
3. Uninstall programs
4. Delete browsing history
5. See if any parts are salvageable
6. Contact original seller of product
8. Save the planet
Check it out: Electronics Recycling (Infographic)
Yeah, it sounds like a lot of work to make the calls, look into the hardware, and clear data when the trash can is right next to you and throwing it away would be so much easier. But the reality is that e-waste is a rapidly growing threat to the environment and by just taking an extra step or two does make a difference.