Turning the Tide of e-Trash

Overflowing landfills, the dumping of potentially toxic waste and contaminated land are problems that threaten to spill over in modern society.

Where electronics are concerned, the biodegradable argument has no bearing, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research into household and office waste of such products as computers, telephones and televisions shows the massive scale of our disposable culture.

In 2007, 205.5 million units of computer equipment (including CPUs, monitors, notebooks, keyboards and mice, as well as hardware like printers, fax machines and copiers) were discarded, according to EPA data. Of this, 157.3 million units were trashed and just 48.2 million were recycled. This included 29.9 million desktop computers and 12 million laptops and 31.9 million monitors. That equates to 112,000 items each day. Two million tons of electronic waste was dumped in 2005. All of this is either transferred to landfills, or exported to developing countries where it is sometimes reused. On the face of it, both of these solutions seem to be cases of shifting the trash elsewhere. The capability and willingness for reuse is much higher in developing countries than the US, and can also prove cost effective. An old laptop that might merely be out of date or need minor repairs can easily be polished up, fixed and re-used or even sold on, but the data on the machine might not be at risk if not destroyed beforehand

Elsewhere in the world and at the heart of the electronic manufacturing industries, the Chinese Government has banned the import of ‘e-waste’ and, along with Governments in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, passed laws that demand manufacturers recycle 75 per cent of their annual production.

Beyond the manufacturers own efforts to stem the tide of e-trash onto our landscape, what else are companies and consumers able to do with their unwanted electronics? The community recycling program is one solution, but others exist.

The cost of new hardware for consumers was estimated at $1407 per household in 2008, with the nation purchasing about 68 million computers. The EPA estimates that 68 per cent of consumers stockpile used or unwanted computer equipment in their homes. The continual replacement of new-for-old machines sees e-waste end up on the sidewalk heading for landfill or gathering dust in basements once newer versions appear.

Besides the cost of new hardware to replace unwanted items, there might also be a financial cost to your company or household for dumping the hardware that you no longer want. More significantly, there is also the cost to conscience of disposing equipment that could just be faulty or out of date. Remember that discarded machines might contain parts that are perfectly adequate as spares or repairs.

For companies wanting to overhaul their existing technology, firms such as Capitol Asset Recycling offer a solution to the problem of e-trash. With over 20 years of experience in the electrical and electronics industry, Capitol Asset Recycling comes to corporate offices and government agencies to remove and recycle unwanted electronic and metal equipment with complete asset management tracking capabilities. Materials are then brought to their combined 30,000 square feet of warehouse facilities for disassembly. With a ZERO electronic waste landfill policy, electronics are dismantled to their original components and each commodity is segregated into various collection boxes. These raw materials include steel, copper, aluminum, glass, plastic and more. In terms of working machines, Capitol Asset Recycling responsibly and conveniently processes old unwanted equipment for resale at affordable rates to customers.

Today, companies can be held accountable for improper electronics disposal decisions, so it is very important to choose your electronics recycler wisely. If your organization sends electronics to a recycler that releases toxins and then goes out of business, anyone who sent material to the recycler could be liable for cleanup costs. If your recycler disposes of, or arranges for disposal of, electronics in a landfill or other disposal sites, then there is the risk of CERCLA, RCRA, Civil or State liability. Make sure that you perform proper due diligence when deciding your electronics recycler. Initial cost may be your sticking point, but the lingering threats of where your material ends up should also be a major factor in your decision making process.

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