Only half of the states in the U.S. have enacted state laws that address electronics recycling. Most of these states use Producer Responsibility rules that require the manufacturers to pay for recycling. California uses an Advanced Recovery Fee. Consumers are charged a fee when they purchase electronics, and those fees pay for recycling.

For states that do not have rules mandating electronics recycling, people may not realize the importance. If it’s not required, why bother? Take a closer look at the importance of electronics recycling.

Recycling Lowers the Need to Mine New Minerals and Metals

To make new items, some metals and minerals have to be mined. Aluminum is one of the most common metals used in electronics. In 2021, aluminum use grew by 11%. More than 2 million metric tons were sent overseas, plus there was the aluminum that was reused in manufacturing plants within the U.S.

What’s interesting is that it costs less to recycle aluminum than to smelt refined bauxite ore. It’s estimated that you can save about 90% in energy consumption. About 70% of aluminum cans are made from recycled aluminum. Aluminum is used in computer frames, cases, and heatsinks.

That’s just aluminum. Many other metals and minerals are found in electronics. Here are just some of the things that can be recycled from electronics.

  • Copper – Found in CPU chips, power supplies, and wiring
  • Gold – Found in CPU chips, hard drives, motherboards, and RAM boards
  • Graphite – Found in battery anodes
  • Lithium – Found in rechargeable batteries
  • Palladium and Platinum Metals – Found in capacitors, circuit boards, electrodes, LCDs, and microprocessors
  • Silicon – Found in circuits
  • Silver – Found in capacitors, CPUs, and motherboards
  • Steel – Found in the drive frames, screws, and tower frames

In addition to these metals and minerals, recycled electronics have plastic components and glass displays. These can also be reused to make new items. The more components are reused, the more is kept out of landfills. It promotes a circular economy, which is the measure of using items, recycling items, and purchasing items that reuse materials rather than having to create or mine new raw materials.

It Keeps Toxic Items Out of Landfills

Today’s landfills are lined to prevent chemicals and other pollutants from leaching into the groundwater or soil, but the true longevity of these systems is unknown. Experts have found that leachates and methane gas are still being found more than 20 years after landfills are closed for good.

Forever chemicals from plastics are another concern. As it can take hundreds of years for plastic to break down in a landfill, the chemicals in plastics can be in a landfill far longer than any of us have been alive. No one truly knows the impact electronics in landfills will have 100, 200, or 500 years from now.

Recycling Prevents Damage and Harm to Others

Some of the components found in electronics can cause harm if not properly handled. Mercury and arsenic are just two examples. Plus, there’s a risk involved with getting items to the landfill. You may have seen news articles about garbage trucks catching fire because lithium-ion batteries were tossed into the trash.

When punctured, it can spark small explosions that ignite paper products that cannot be recycled. If a district can’t recycle greasy pizza boxes and a battery ruptures, that box catches on fire. You now have air pollution, risk of harm to the driver and other vehicles in the area, and damage to the truck and surrounding area. All of this can be prevented through proper recycling.

There’s another aspect of harm that people can overlook. When you have a phone, computer, tablet, printer, fax machine, etc., you have personal data stored on that item’s drives. Suppose you used your home computer to do your income taxes. You stored a copy of your income taxes on your hard drive. Even if you do a factory restore, there are still ways to rebuild the pathway to access that information.

A store or bank’s computers may have client information like addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, banking information, and SSNs. All of this is vital information that has to be protected to prevent identity theft. A hospital or medical clinic stores patient information like health records, SSNs, birthdates, and insurance information.

When you recycle electronics with a specialist like ERI, data destruction is part of the process. Data is fully destroyed to ensure the risk of retrieving that information is eliminated.

Donations Can Help Schools, Non-Profits, and Low-Income Community Members

When you donate electronics, they could still be valuable to others. For example, some organizations take used smartphones, wipe data, refurbish them, and donate them to shelters housing victims of domestic violence. Used laptops and tablets can be useful to school children who don’t have computers at home.

If you own a business, get a receipt for your items. You may qualify for a tax break on the value of the computer equipment you donated.  Make sure your data is being destroyed in a NAID compliant manner or it could come back and cause much larger problems.  

Recycling Allows for Innovation

As technology continues to improve, items are becoming more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Think back to the CFL bulbs from a couple of decades ago. They were more efficient, but they contained small amounts of mercury. Technology continued to improve and LED light bulbs came out. Incentives were given to households to recycle CFL bulbs and upgrade to LED bulbs.

Recycling and upgrading electronics makes room for these upgrades. Plastics, glass, and metals can be reused in the new designs. Newer models are greener, safer, and more efficient, which is better for current and future generations.

What Should You Do?

Don’t throw away your electronics. You should have a local recycling facility in your town or county. Look at their website to see what you do with your electronics. Most programs require you to drop them off at a facility, but you may find they limit you or won’t take certain items. That doesn’t mean you should throw items they won’t take into the trash.

ERI is the first electronics recycling company in the nation to gain SOC 2 compliance certification, which proves the company’s commitment to data protection, responsible recycling practices, and security. When you recycle your electronics with ERI, you’re assured your data is destroyed and components like metal, glass, and plastic are recycled properly.

How do you recycle with ERI? There are several options. Purchase a postage-paid box from ERI and pack up your electronics to be shipped to the closest ERI recycling facility. There are nine of them, so your items don’t have to travel far. You’ll have tracking information the moment it leaves your home or office.

Drop off your used electronics at Best Buy or Staples for proper recycling. Best Buy also has a pick-up service where you can recycle two major electronics and unlimited smaller ones. Finally, companies can hire ERI for ITAD services right in their office. Call ERI at 1-800-ERI-DIRECT to speak to an ITAD specialist.