We’ve all done it: put old or used electronic equipment out with the trash or delivered it to the local dump, whether it was a PC, laptop, tablet, monitor, TV, cell phone, printer, scanner or other consumer electronics. Now multiply that behavior by the millions of other people across the country that do the same thing, and you can imagine the vast electronic wasteland that we have created. Of course, e-waste is not imaginary: it is stark reality.
The United States generates the most e-waste of any developed country – more than three million tons annually. China is second to the U.S., producing more than two million tons of e-waste yearly, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom, each yielding between one and two million tons of electronic leftovers each year. It is estimated that 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are disposed worldwide every year. Although the recycling rate of electronic products in the U.S. is less than 20 percent, compared to the more than 65-percent rate for steel cans or yard trimmings or the more than 99-percent rate for vehicle batteries, e-waste is still the fastest growing municipal waste stream – a $40 billion industry, according to Electronic Recyclers International, Inc.
Today landfills account for much of the disposal solution for all discarded waste – about 54 percent. Recycling, a growing industry for recovery of raw materials from all sources, addresses more than 33 percent of the waste stream, and incineration takes care of the remaining 13 percent. However, less than 15 percent of e-waste is currently targeted for recycling, a trend that local communities and state governments want to broaden as a means of preserving landfills for future use.
The National Computer Recycling Act (H.R. 233) was reintroduced by Congress in 2007, aimed at establishing a grant-and-fee program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to encourage and promote the recycling of used computers and the development of a national recycling infrastructure for general purposes. The legislation, though, died in committee due to a lack of broad consensus and jurisdiction, leaving the e-waste issue for individual states to resolve.
As of last year 25 states had passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) points out, with additional states expected to pursue new recycling laws or improve on existing statutes. With the exception of California and Utah – states that deploy consumer fee models and manufacturer education programs, respectively – other states use the “producer responsibility” approach, where manufacturers are required to pay for product recycling. Currently, more than 65 percent of the U.S. population is covered by a state e-waste recycling statute.
With the federal government – a major purchaser of electronics and producer of e-waste – and private business enterprises moving toward better ecological governance, more and more advocacy groups are collaborating to advance recycling trends and curb the exporting of recoverable e-waste to developing countries. In addition to ETBC, some of these organizations include Address the Mess, Earth911, eco International, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the Basal Action Network, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association.
For businesses involved in the recovery of electronic waste substances, both hazardous and non-hazardous, this industry will continue to grow exponentially as environmental stewardship increases. Recycling metals from e-waste uses only a fraction of the energy needed for mining new raw materials, and a ton of cell phones can yield $15,000 in precious metals, ETBC notes. Gold, silver, copper, aluminum, zinc, tin, iron, nickel, lithium and silicon are some of the valued materials that are recoverable, which can be reintroduced into consumer product streams, while harmful waste such as mercury, sulfur, lead, cadmium and beryllium can be safely removed, protecting public safety.
Our new shredding facility was designed to help address e-waste by recovering gold, palladium, platinum or silver from electro-plated manufactured products. This allows us to save money and save the environment, setting a standard for other industries and consumers to follow. For more information about our shredding facility, please don’t hesitate to contact us.