72% of the World’s Electronic Waste Doesn’t Get Recycled

Worldwide, a record amount of e-waste leaves homes and businesses in 2019. Of those 59.1 million tons (53.6 million tonnes), just under 18% of it was properly recycled. To put it in perspective, only 10.28 million tons were recycled. The remaining 49 million tons ended up in landfills or were dumped on roadsides or other inappropriate areas. That’s almost 61 cruise ships worth of trashed electronics. Why aren’t people recycling?

Reasons Why People Don’t Recycle

Some of the problems lie in the fact that only 19 states in the U.S. have bans designed to keep electronic devices from reaching landfills. Only 25 states have laws on the books regarding e-recycling and only a couple of them require the manufacturer to pay for the cost. Our advanced nation isn’t doing much better than the rest of the world when it comes to mandating e-recycling.

The coronavirus pandemic added to the problem as waste districts shut down. People were following stay-home orders and passing time by cleaning and decluttering, but recycling centers were shut down. It became easier to put items in the trash.

With so little regulation, many people don’t know the best ways to dispose of old electronic devices. They may work hours that conflict with the times the nearest recycling center is open. Others may not have a facility close by. They may show up only to find that the nearest center doesn’t accept the electronics they want to recycle. It’s frustrating.

Many programs limit free recycling to laptops, computers, gaming systems, televisions, and small electronic devices. You may bring a microwave or vacuum only to find that the facility will only take it if you pay up. Business owners may be told they have to pay by the pound and don’t get free recycling. If you look at one waste district in New England, electronic devices are free to recycle if you’re a consumer, but businesses have to pay 50 cents per pound. Items like A/V components, phones/fax machines, small electronics, stereos, and gaming systems can cost up to $5 each for consumers and business owners. The cost adds up, which makes recycling unappealing.

The change will only come if people around the world band together. One way to do this is by avoiding the urge to purchase the latest model or technology each year. It’s time to make electronics last and refurbish as much as possible. If it can’t be refurbished, e-waste recycling should be the second choice. Around the world, people need to start setting examples and getting programs to expand. ERI is coming up with ways to do that.

Dangers of Trashing Electronics

Why is recycling so important? If many states don’t have laws or regulations in place, it can’t be that urgent. Right?

Have you stopped to think about what is inside the computer, cellphone, tablet, or printer you’re trashing? Under the plastic casing, the computer components are made from toxic metals like cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. Some plastics may leach carcinogens from the styrene found in the plastic.

The liner systems in landfills are designed to keep those metals and other toxins from leaching in the soil or groundwater, but they’re not fail-proof. If you look at the design, a landfill’s liner system is set up to create a giant lined hole. From top to bottom, the layers are:

  • Subsoil
  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Synthetic Liner
  • Sand

Once the top layer of sand is in place, the trash can be added. When enough trash is to fill that hole, it’s covered in another layer of clay, sand, and topsoil. A new area is then set up for the new landfill. Monitoring continues to check that methane and other dangers are not leaking out of the landfill liner. There is the possibility that these heavy metals will end up seeping out of the liner.

Still not sure it’s a problem? In a landfill, a plastic cup or plastic water bottle takes 450 years to break down. A toothbrush or diaper takes 500 years. Plastic bags take the shortest amount of time, but it’s still 20 years. To break down effectively, plastics need exposure to sunlight and oxygen, which they don’t get in a landfill setting. The plastic shell of a laptop isn’t going to break down any faster than a toothbrush, and by that point, it’s unlikely the landfill liner is working effectively anymore.

E-Recycling Solutions That May Help

What do you do with your electronic items if your state doesn’t have mandatory recycling? You should always start by asking your local waste district. The state may not mandate it, but that doesn’t mean there are no local programs set up to help.

ERI and Amazon teamed up to create secure electronics recycling bins. These bins are found in several areas across the U.S. where there is an established Amazon Hub Locker. Currently, there are electronics drop boxes locations in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. Items dropped in these secure bins cannot be larger than 11 by 29 inches. Once the bin is full, ERI picks up the items and brings them to one of eight facilities where data is destroyed and the items are refurbished for resale or donation or shredded and recycled responsibly. Items meant to be recycled in these bins are:

  • A/V devices
  • Cellphones, e-readers, and tablets
  • Laptops
  • Media players
  • Small electronics like cameras, portable hard drives, and USB sticks
  • Smart/connected home devices like a Google Home or Amazon Alexa

If you don’t have one of these drop boxes nearby, how about using ERI’s secure home and business recycling boxes. Talk to your town about a town-wide recycling event that everyone chips in to help arrange. ERI delivers a box or skid to your location. Fill it with recycled electronics and call UPS to pick up and deliver the box or skid to ERI for data destruction and recycling. The cost of the box or skid depends on the size and if you want standard tracking or serialized tracking that records each make, model, and serial number. Packaging materials are sent in addition to the box or skid.

What happens when your electronics get picked up? ERI destroys the data. Deleting files or restoring to factory settings isn’t enough. For your data to truly be destroyed, it needs to go through degaussing, sanitizing/wiping, or shredding the hard drive. If the device still has value, it could be refurbished after data is wiped. If it doesn’t, shredders chop it into small pieces. Those pieces are then sorted into plastics, metals, and glass and get melted down for reuse.

When you use ERI’s secure home and business recycling boxes, you can track where the box or skid is. You’ll know where everything is, which gives you peace of mind. Nothing gets sent overseas where it could end up being disposed of in a way that causes pollution or is sold to someone looking to steal data. ERI’s certifications with e-Stewards, NAID, and R2 assure you that items are recycled responsibly, in accordance with government guidelines, and never get processed outside of the U.S.

How do you purchase recycling boxes or find the nearest e-waste recycling center? Check ERI’s store for current prices on the e-waste recycling boxes. We also have a quick online form to find the best solution for recycling your electronics.