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What to do with your “eWaste”

Here is the problem

The United States trashes roughly 400 million tons of eWaste every year. eWaste is made up of old televisions, cell phones, computers, printers, monitors, or any type of electronic gizmo or gadget. Technology has changed so rapidly in the past decade, that electronic equipment quickly becomes outdated. I do not anticipate the rate of technological change to decline any time soon. Add to this, the fact that the FCC is requiring a switch to digital television in February of 2009. Millions of TVs will find their way into landfills in the coming year.

Only 12.5% of eWaste actually gets recycled. That means that 87.5% of eWaste is finding it’s way into our landfills. How dangerous is this? Consider the fact that most televisions and monitors (CRTs, not flat panel monitors) have between 4-8 pounds of lead in them.

Unfortunately, electronics manufacturers have historically designed products with a “cradle to grave” mentality, meaning products that have a limited life-cycle and are “tossed” when they no longer work. For example, a few years ago I needed to replace the printer cartridges in my ink jet printer. I went to the local tech store to buy the replacement cartridges and discovered that a brand new printer is much cheaper than buying the actual printer cartridges. Normally, I am not so wasteful, but this time I bought the new printer. The old one was a good 10 years old, but I did recycle it.

Manufacturers need to, and have begun thinking with a “cradle to cradle” mentality. Meaning they are starting to design and manufacture products that can be fully reclaimed or reused.

When you are facing the prospect of replacing your electronic equipment, there is no reason why the old items cannot be recycled. Here is a list of resources you can use.

eBay – if the product you are discarding still is a viable item, with a lot of useful life left in it, consider selling it on eBay. You can make a bit of money for the item, and it will not go into a landfill. Unfortunately, you have no guarantees that the purchaser will recycle properly once the item is definitely at the end of it’s life cycle.

Craigs List – Craigs List is online, local classifieds and forums for 567 cities in over 50 countries worldwide – community moderated, and largely free. If you sell an item on Craigs List, and you arrange to deliver the item, or have it picked up, be very careful and use your common sense. Insist on a public meeting place like a cafe. Tell a friend or family member where you’re going. Take your cell phone along if you have one. Consider having a friend accompany you, and trust your instincts.

Freecycle – Freecycle is made up of 4,342 groups with 5,014,000 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. I use Freecycle extensively, and is my first choice when recycling equipment. In my “day job”, I have to recycle about a truckload of equipment at least once a quarter. I post an ad on Freecycle and my equipment is normally gone within a day.

Most communities also make recycling services available. Search your local community websites, newsletters, and even phone books for recycling centers that will take your old, unwanted equipment.

Above all else, be a good citizen and never throw away any type of electronic equipment.

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