Electronic Waste A Growing Concern for Consumers and Businesses

Businesses and consumers both contribute to the growing number of electronic waste, but they are also working together by ramping up their recycling efforts.

Americans recycle just 35 percent of their garbage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This figure is even smaller for electronics with only 25 percent being recycled.

To combat e-waste, New York City began a new program called E-cycleNYC to help apartment residents recycle their used electronics, including cellphones, computers and batteries, Waste 360 reported. The program will give apartment buildings access to on-site waste collection services at no charge to city taxpayers or buildings. This initiative to limit electronic waste will soon expand as a law prohibiting residents from throwing away electronics in the garbage will go into effect in 2015.

“The program represents the most innovative and comprehensive electronics recycling service offered in the nation,” said John Doherty, commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation. With major cities launching widespread recycling initiatives for their used electronics, recycling facilities might also have to ramp up their processing capacity by purchasing feeder conveyer and metal detection equipment.

Companies recycling own products

While consumers are likely to become impacted by electronics recycling, businesses are also doing their part to control their e-waste, according to Consumer Affairs.

Businesses such as ink and toner cartridge retailer Cartridge World recycle their own products to keep them out of landfills, recycling 4.5 million used printer cartridges each year.

“As a globally recognized electronics brand, we have an obligation to educate and advocate the importance of recycling,” said Tom McLaughlin, Cartridge World marketing director.

“Unfortunately, electronics are recycled at even lower rates than other common household items, and electronics often have the most devastating impacts on the environment.”

The electronics recycling sector processed between 3 to 4 million tons of used electronics in 2011, according to local recycling guide Earth911. Recycling electronics is a valuable way to reuse materials such as plastic, steel and aluminum. Many of these consumer gadgets also contain hazardous chemicals such as mercury that could harm the environment if they were simply tossed in landfills. These chemicals could contaminate nearby water sources, such as groundwater.

To help increase recycling rates, some companies, such as Sony, have policies that allow its customers to trade in used electronics in exchange for store credit. Other businesses will also pay customers for their old cellphones to collect the minerals they contain such as gold and silver.