Five Ways Recycling Electronics Protects the Planet

By Veena Clay March 5, 2014

The use of electronic materials and products has exploded over the past two decades in nearly every household across America. In fact, according to the EPA, the average American household contains 24 or more electronic devices. This phenomena has shifted the way we communicate and interact with each other on a daily basis. It has also raised important questions about how to best dispose of our electronic devices once we no longer need or use them.

Due to the swell in use, consumer electronics sales are increasing the potential for serious damage to the environment. This is because as more electronic waste enters landfills, the higher the risk of toxic materials used to make them leaking into groundwater, entering wind currents, causing health issues and polluting the environment. Electronic waste also takes up precious space in landfills, making it increasingly more likely that new space will be needed over time.

Despite the threats to the environment, technology shows no signs of slowing down. However, as innovation proceeds to produce even more sophisticated devices, new solutions in electronic recycling are producing more and more resourceful ways to protect the planet.

Recycling electronics can reduce the amount of devices entering the waste stream, thereby reigning in pollution. It also saves energy as the amount of effort and resources used to manufacture the devices is recouped. In the large scheme of things, recycling protects virgin resources, such as gold and silver, used to make electronics, and the overall recycling process discourages the use of toxic materials.

1. Recycling reduces electronic waste

Recycling has become one of the most important methods of waste reduction. It conserves energy and keeps valuable materials out of landfills. For electronics specifically, recycling keeps large, sometimes toxic devices out of the waste stream and gives a second life to valuable parts and materials that can be extracted and put to good use elsewhere in the production cycle.

Consider this: Today’s landfills receive 85% of America’s electronic products, representing 2% of the trash contained therein. That latter number may seem small, but that 2% actually equates to 70% of the toxic waste represented. Clearly, there is abundant incentive to protect the planet by recycling electronics through the reduction of waste.

Despite this clear incentive, however, only 12.5% of electronic waste is recycled, and it represents the fastest-growing stream of waste in the nation. As sales continue to climb and manufacturing increases, Americans will need to be smart about recycling electronics for a more sustainable life on this planet, both now and in the future.

2. Recycling electronics reduces pollution

Any conversation about recycling involves the pressing issue of pollution. Electronic devices in particular can have a hand in pollution due to the processes used to make them as well as the materials used to manufacture them.

For instance, many electronic devices contain lead, a potentially dangerous metal that can seep into landfill soil and eventually find its way to groundwater in underground aquifers. Because of the lead contained in electronic devices, air pollution is also a problem that leads to health risks such as respiratory diseases and blood poisoning.

Pollution in the electronics manufacturing process comes into play as well. The carbon emitted as electronic devices are produced is having disastrous effects on the environment. However, when appropriate electronics recycling programs are in place, companies are encouraged to reduce pollution in the manufacturing process through the use of more environmentally friendly methods.

3. Recycling electronics saves energy

One of the best ways that recycling electronics contributes to protecting the planet is by conserving energy. A good way to gain perspective on this is by taking a look at energy equivalents. For instance, recycling 1 million laptops is equivalent in terms of electricity used to the energy expended in one year for 3,657 homes. That is a lot of energy!.

So, how does this work? Making electronic products using raw materials from the earth expends energy. Energy is used, for example, to extract and process the fossil fuel building blocks in microprocessors. Recycling, however, is an important intervention in the electronics manufacturing process. When recycled materials are used to make electronic products rather than primary, raw materials, the energy savings can be huge.

Saving energy means that there is less of a demand for raw materials, which is important for the sustainability of the planet. It also means less pollution from fossil fuel extraction and the protection of valuable virgin materials. As the use of electronics continues to rise, saving energy is destined to become a central goal in future recycling efforts.

4. Recycling electronics protects virgin resources

Did you know that electronic devices can contain gold, silver and other precious resources? These source materials, known as virgin resources, are crucial to the electronics manufacturing process. However, the increased demand for electronics around the world has placed many virgin materials and resources in increasingly short supply.

Surprisingly, producing electronic devices can have a detrimental effect on one highly valuable virgin resource we all need: water. Approximately 1.5 tons of water is used just to manufacture one computer and one monitor. When the amount and scale of annual electronics manufacturing, including computers, mobile devices, televisions, appliances and more, is considered, it is easy to see why protecting virgin resources via recycling is an excellent way to protect the planet.

5. Recycling electronics discourages the use of toxic materials

Recycling electronics is a process in which each aspect connects to and affects another. In other words, the big-picture scenario for protecting the planet by recycling electronics involves more consumer demand for recycling measures, which in turn drives a greener manufacturing process.

A greener manufacturing process means that companies use less toxic materials to make electronics, often because they are working toward a certain incentive that encourages electronic recycling. This circle of positive incentives is a good way to get large electronic manufacturers around the world involved in protecting the planet. As more companies come to value the benefits of participation in electronic recycling programs, fewer toxic materials enter the waste stream, thereby protecting the earth from numerous hazardous effects.

An extremely valuable way to protect the planet

Recycling electronics is an extremely valuable way to protect the planet. By taking electronics out of the waste stream, reducing pollution and conserving energy, the process has benefits that are economical, efficient and earth friendly. Add to this the protection of highly valuable virgin resources, as well as the overall reduction of toxic waste, and recycling electronics stands as one of the best methods of ensuring a sustainable future for everyone on the planet.