Recycling old electronic equipment can be frustrating because the typical curbside recycling company won’t accept used electronics. There is a good reason for this. Most electronic devices contain harmful or toxic materials. When these devices are destroyed in an incinerator or dumped in a landfill, the toxic chemicals can be released into the air and seep into groundwater.
Toxic Chemicals Found in Electronic Devices
It likely will surprise you to find out how many different toxic chemicals are used when manufacturing computer devices and cell phones. Chemicals such as copper, cadmium, nickel, lead and zinc can all be found in most electronic devices. Since these toxins don’t break down quickly or easily, they will remain in the environment for a very long time.
Release of BFRs and PVCs in Computer Devices
The most toxic chemicals found in electronic devices are BFRs and PVCs.
- BFRs – Brominated flame retardants are chemicals typically found in the plastic housings of cell phones and other electronics. Most cables and circuit boards in computer devices also contain BFRs. When destroyed in an incinerator, extremely toxic chemicals such as hydrogen bromide and brominated dioxins are formed.
- PVCs – Polyvinyl chloride is a highly toxic plastic material found in many electronics. Like brominated flame retardants, PVCs become more toxic when incinerated.
Recycling Centers for Old Electronics
In addition to the fact that toxic chemicals are found in electronics, the devices typically have to be broken down into each component before they can be recycled. Because of this, the electronic recycling industry is very specialized. Finding a location near you may be quite difficult. Even after spending hours to locate a facility, you may find that it has very restrictive hours and days that don’t coordinate well with your busy schedule.
Donate Used Computer Equipment
Another option to consider if your old desktop computer, laptop or printer still works is to donate it to a donation center. Places such as Goodwill have partnered with computer companies to refurbish old computers and wipe out the hard drives. Even so, it is important to remove all personal information from the hard drive before dropping it off at a donation center. The center will then resell the equipment at a very reasonable price and you will receive a donation receipt.
Since donation centers don’t accept old cell phones, however, you will need to find another option for recycling them.
The Cell Phone Kiosk
One of the most innovative ideas in cell phone recycling was started by a company called ecoATM. Using the convenience of kiosks, the company developed a safe and easy way for people to recycle their old cell phones. It was the brainchild of a trio of technology start-up entrepreneurs in Del Mar, CA. While having coffee one morning in 2008, they discussed the fact that during a recent Nokia survey it was discovered that only 3% of participants had recycled a mobile phone. That got the wheels spinning. They spent several months researching cell phone recycling. The team also asked consumers what drawbacks they had and what would make recycling more practical. What they found was that most people were willing to recycle if three issues were resolved:
- Lack of Monetary Incentives
- Security Breach of Personal Data
The group began to research ways that a kiosk could be designed to erase a phone’s memory and pay customers immediately, either with cash or with a donation receipt. Advanced security features were also necessary to discourage stolen devices. With the assistance of highly technical experts and engineers, they developed a prototype and successfully piloted several kiosks. Today, with kiosks located all around the United States, it is easy to recycle with ecoATM.
However, if you decide to discard your used electronics, keep in mind the environmental impact of your decision.
Author: Andy Quayle
Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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