The use of electronic products, such as computers and computer peripherals, televisions, VCRs, DVD players, stereo equipment, and cell phones, has grown substantially over the past several decades. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, Americans own approximately 24 electronic products per household.
With this increase in the use of electronic devices has come the problem of managing and disposing of electronic waste, or e-waste as it is commonly referred to, which includes unwanted, obsolete, or unusable electronic products. E-waste is taking up valuable landfill space and, more importantly, it can contain hazardous materials such as lead which, if disposed of improperly, can have adverse impacts on human health and the environment.
Management and Disposal Options
E-waste can be managed in various ways, depending upon its continued usability, availability of reprocessing facilities, where it is generated, and other factors. Here are some options:
Preventing waste in the first place is the preferred management option. Consider repairing or upgrading your used electronic equipment so you can continue to use it. In some cases, for example, adding memory to a computer or upgrading software can improve the unit's performance and extend its usefulness. Instead of purchasing a new digital television, consider purchasing a digital-to-analog converter box to receive and reformat digital TV signals.
As the amount of electronic waste has increased, many charitable organizations have become overwhelmed with electronic waste and either no longer accept it or must bear the cost of disposal, further straining their limited budgets. Some charities, schools, materials exchanges, and other organizations may still be interested, however. Call first to check the organization's minimum requirements and to verify that the unit will be accepted.
In response to consumer concerns, several electronics manufacturing companies have implemented take-back programs. Some programs allow the purchaser to pay a fee at the time of sale to cover shipping to a reprocessing facility when the unit becomes unwanted or obsolete. Others allow owners to ship e-waste to their facilities for a nominal fee or will provide owners with a rebate when the unit is shipped to a participating recycling center. Some waste management companies also offer similar management options to households and businesses.
Units may be reused or dismantled for recycling. The silver, gold, lead, and other heavy metals as well as some of the plastics are recycled. Some companies guarantee 100% of the unit is recycled while others recycle as much as possible and then dispose of the rest as required by applicable regulations.
For more information on where to recycle used electronics in Idaho, visit DEQ's online Recycling Directory and the links to computer manufacturer recycling programs at right.
By far, the least preferred option is to landfill electronic waste. Households are allowed to put these items in the trash for disposal in most municipal solid waste landfills. Businesses and other nonhousehold generators disposing of e-waste must determine if the units would be characterized as hazardous, however, and, if so, must include the weight of these units in their monthly calculations of hazardous waste generation. Facilities that generate hazardous waste are regulated by state and federal rules that govern permitting, storage, transport, and disposal.