What Should You Know About E-Waste Recycling?

If you're like many modern consumers, you upgrade your electronics on a fairly frequent schedule -- getting new smartphones when your cell carrier contract ends, purchasing a new "smart" television to help cut the cord on cable, or investing in tablets for the entire family before a long trip. While this can keep you on the cutting edge of new technology, it also generates a lot of waste. Other than trading in your late-model smartphones for a credit on your new phone or selling your used electronics on an online yard sale, you may be at a loss when it comes to proper disposal of obsolete electronics (or "e-waste"). Read on to learn more about e-waste recycling, as well as your e-waste disposal choices if you don't have a recycling center in your area.

How is e-waste recycled?

Because e-waste often contains lithium ion batteries, mercury, or other toxic heavy metals, it's not safe to simply throw it in the trash. Once in a landfill, these electronic devices can leach their contents into the soil, contaminating it (and potentially surrounding groundwater) for generations. Cathode ray tubes found in some old electronics can release a harmful gas when broken. E-waste that is dumped directly into a water supply can be disastrous for the ecosystem, killing off fish and fish-eating wildlife. Fortunately, e-waste recycling allows machinery to disassemble and sort discarded electronic devices to re-use most parts and safely dispose of the rest without any risk of environmental contamination.

During the recycling process, the e-waste will first be manually disassembled by workers using protective equipment. These workers remove batteries and copper components so they can be easily recycled without further sorting. Machinery then breaks down the e-waste into tiny fragments which can allow magnetic materials (like aluminum and brass) to be sorted from the non-magnetic materials. After being sorted, these metals can be melted down and used to manufacture new electronics, cars, or even airplanes. Electronics containing primarily plastic and glass are immersed in water, which separates the materials and allows them each to be melted or shredded for reuse. 

Most cities (and many electronic stores) offer e-waste recycling during certain times of year. You may also be able to take advantage of recycling facilities that allow you to send in your electronic waste for recycling. Depending upon the type and brand of electronics you're planning to recycle, you may be able to have shipping costs covered (as the recycling facility should be able to resell some of the raw materials gleaned for more than enough to pay your shipping fees). 

Can you dispose of e-waste without recycling it?

Many states dealing with pollution issues or concerns about increasing levels of electronics consumption (and disposal) have put forth strict e-waste recycling laws. For example, New York State recently enacted a law making it illegal for consumers to throw away electronics in the trash. Some states impose hefty fines or civil penalties on individuals found dumping e-waste in landfills or on the side of the road, while others even classify these actions as criminal misdemeanors. Even if your state doesn't  specifically ban the trash disposal of e-waste, it's generally unsafe for your community for you to try to dispose of these devices through means other than recycling.

If you're unable to find an e-waste disposal facility in your area (or are dealing with electronics too heavy or unwieldy to ship inexpensively) you may want to contact the manufacturer of your device directly. Many manufacturing and distribution companies will accept back their own electronics for recycling at no cost, even larger electronics that can be expensive to transport. You can click this link to contact a local recycling company.