Past generations made plenty of mistakes, and you may have seen evidence of this when walking in a remote section of the forest where someone dumped a broken refrigerator, freezer, or microwave. In rural areas, it wasn’t uncommon for people to have pits in their acreage and use them as personal dump sites for trash and broken appliances.
When thinking about e-waste, exactly what makes up the 50 million tons that are generated every year? Around a third of e-waste is made up of small electronics like digital cameras, rechargeable razors, microwaves, and toaster ovens. That’s just the start.
- 28% includes large appliances like washing machines and dryers.
- 17% includes temperature exchange appliances and equipment like air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers.
- 15% includes screens like monitors and TVs.
- 7% includes small IT like laptops and smartphones.
- 2% includes lamps and bulbs.
It’s estimated that the average U.S. household has over two dozen electronic products, and in 2019, the U.S. had an e-waste collection rate of about 15%. Batteries are another type of e-waste and every year, millions of batteries are purchased and either recycled or trashed. Improperly disposed of batteries cause fires that destroy recycling plants, harm the environment, and can injure recycling workers, too.
Education is everything. Not every adult knows how to properly recycle e-waste, so it’s a certainty that those adults aren’t sharing how to recycle with their children. The importance of e-waste awareness is essential and the classroom is a great place to start educating the next generation.
How Can Schools Make a Difference?
How can school districts incorporate educational programs into their schools? Several options are available.
- Take a Field Trip
Ask your local recycling facility if field trips are allowed. Students can learn a lot about what happens to their recyclables during a tour. If they can follow the classroom recyclables through the facility, it’s a lesson they won’t forget.
If field trips aren’t possible, there are plenty of videos on sites like YouTube that show exactly what happens to electronics that are recycled. Use those videos for educational value, and turn that into a lesson on the circular economy.
You could have children see what they can purchase from the recycled materials collected from unused or broken electronics. If they see the value of recycling, they’ll be excited to look for products that include those recyclables, which support the circular economy.
- Teach More About a Circular Economy and Reuse
While you’re on the topic of a circular economy, show students how they can reuse items to maximize their use. Instead of recycling a cardboard egg carton, you could fill each egg compartment with potting soil and use them to start seeds. Plant the entire section of egg carton into a garden and have it break down and become soil. Reusing items is important in the world of e-waste and recycling.
Explain how that same process is useful with electronics. You have a broken laptop that needs a new screen, and another laptop’s motherboard is broken. You can take the screen from one laptop and use it to replace the broken screen. You’ve reused a component and have a laptop you can use again.
- Keep Recycling Bins in Every Classroom
Make sure every classroom has recycling bins for different recyclables. You want a bin for e-waste, a smaller bin for batteries, and bins for glass, plastic, paper, and cardboard. Allow students the time to recycle items they’ve generated during lessons, snack time, or a meal.
Each day, assign a team of students to check the recycling bins at the end of the day. They need to make sure the right items are in the right bins. Every student in the classroom will have a turn, and it ensures they understand the basics of recycling.
While some of the items like plastic, glass, paper, and cardboard will get picked up by the maintenance or janitorial team at the end of the day. Electronics have to be recycled in a different manner. Explain to the students what happens next with the e-waste.
- Explore Remarketing Programs
Today’s students use and carry around electronic devices from a young age. In some districts, it’s normal for lessons to be taught on iPads or other tablets from kindergarten on. The average lifespan of some tablets is only five years. Apple and Samsung products can last around ten years. At that point, they’re no longer useful and need to be recycled.
Schools need to work with an e-waste recycler that will help them get back any remaining value. A device may be too slow for your students, but it can have value to someone else, and that value helps you save money on new technology. When recycling, choose an ITAD provider who specializes in remarketing.
Involve students in this process, especially if they’re older. Teens might be amazed at how much value exists in unwanted electronics. If they’re excited to see how much money they could get through remarketing, they’ll want to take that step and get the cash.
Parents Need to Step Up, Too
Schools are not the only places children should learn the importance of e-waste. Parents and guardians should take the time to teach children how to recycle e-waste. Have a battery collection box where children can place spent rechargeable and single-use batteries from toys and gaming controllers. When the box is full, bring your children to a battery recycling center like Lowes, Home Depot, or Ace Hardware.
You can find a list of your local battery recycling centers on Call2Recycle.
If you have other electronics like laptops, tablets, TVs, and printers, stores like Staples and Best Buy accept a handful of electronics from households each month. Reach out to your local store for information on quantities.
Get your children to carefully consider their purchases. They might think they really need the latest cellphone model, but is it necessary? Is your teen’s Pixel 6 so old and outdated that it needs to be upgraded right now? If it is important to upgrade, look for trade-in programs and get cashback at the same time you’re upgrading.
Children will follow your example. Older children may point out that you’re wrong and tell you what you should be doing. Don’t argue. Listen to what they’ve learned and use it to improve your own habits and behaviors. If you’ve been throwing out single-use batteries and your child tells you why it’s wrong, learn from your child what you should be doing.
Not every district has a great recycling program. This is especially true in rural areas where you might be hours from a recycling facility. Look into the e-waste recycling boxes offered by ERI. You pay a fee for the box, fill it up, and arrange to have it picked up. ERI’s shipping agents will pick up the box at your home and bring it to a local ERI facility for e-waste recycling.