“I keep setting the plastic blue bin on the curb so they’ll take it away. And I intentionally leave it empty so they should know that I don’t want it. But they just keep leaving it and expecting me to use it each week.” Unfortunately, these are the paraphrased but pretty accurate words that were recently stated by someone during a group conversation at a party. This individual was actually complaining about the inconvenience of having to decide whether or not something is recyclable when she’s placing it in a trash receptacle. But I feel, or hope, that she is in the minority with this feeling that recycling everyday household goods is a tedious and mind-taxing chore.

Recycling for many people is easy. Recycling bins are provided for homes, they’re on the streets and labeled or in different colors so you can easily differentiate between recycling and regular trash, and they’re in schools, parks, offices, and so many other physical locations where we spend our lives on a daily basis. For the most part, it’s fairly easy to recycle paper, plastic, and glass goods that we use on a daily basis. But what about recycling those other items that we use every single day and treat as trash every 18- to 24-months? You know, electronics like cell phones, tablets, and laptops or PCs.

Wasted

 

The fastest growing source of waste on the planet is e-waste , and the US is the world’s largest single producer with 3.14 million tons annually. And looking deeper at our own waste stream creation here in the US, in not so shocking news, the federal government is estimated to be the greatest generator of e-waste on a global scale. The government also provides guidelines for the disposal of electronics, but these are mere recommendations and not regulations. But regardless of whether or not the disposal of e-waste is regulated, we as consumers should care. There are toxic materials like lead and mercury, and reusable metals that can recycled. Plus, some devices are flat out still useful and can be donated.

On average, cell phones are used for about 18-months before being replaced. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone is no longer working. Most people choose to exchange or buy new phones prior to the end of shelf life, but most people don’t think twice about where their phone will go once they exchange it or toss it in the trash. 140 million cell phones end up in US landfills each year. This means that if every man, woman, and child had a cellphone in the US, a little less than 1 out of 2 would end up in landfills. If these phones had been recycled or reused instead of being cast into landfills, we could save enough energy to power 25,900 homes with electricity for an entire year.

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I’m not trying to discourage you from going out and getting the latest and greatest phone, computer, or other electronic device. Have at it. After all, how can you be expected to continue unlocking your 12-month old phone by typing in a passcode like some sort of Neanderthal when you can get a brand new one and use a fingerprint to unlock it? But you likely made an informed decision about the device when you made the purchase, so do the same when you’re done with it. You can donate phones and computers through organizations such as Cell Phones For Soldiers and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Most cell phone providers have bins where you can drop-off old phones or they have mail-in programs, and some like Apple, Dell, and Verizon are actively involved in working with charities to help donate used electronics to those in need. Best Buy claims to have the most comprehensive appliance and electronics recycling program in the US, and they’ll take back electronics, regardless of who was the original retailer. Ebay for Charity allows you to sell your devices and donate a portion or all of the proceeds to a charity of your choosing.

Wasted

Granted, we also have to rely on these companies and organizations to follow through on their end and do the right thing, and you likely don’t have enough time to monitor their entire supply chain from your donation all the way through the recycling process or seeing it be reissued to someone else. The e-waste watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN) put tracking devices inside of 200 computers, TVs, and printers to track where they went and to monitor compliance with the Basel Convention, and international treaty that’s designed to reduce the movement of hazardous waste between nations, and more specifically to protect less developed countries from receiving the transfer of toxic e-waste that developed countries generate but no longer want on their soil. BAN dropped off items at donation centers, recyclers, and buy-back programs who promote their sustainable, green, or environmentally friendly practices. About 33% of the devices ended up outside of the US, and of this 33%, many devices ended up in unauthorized recycling shops and junkyards. But on a positive note, about 67% went through the proper channels after the original owner turned them over.

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So while there’s still room for improvement, you as the consumer are still better off hoping that one of these organizations honors their word and reuses or recycles your device in the manner that they advertise. Simple online searches can give you multiple outlets for responsibly disposing of your e-waste in pretty much any given community.

Whatever you do, don’t be like the person who won’t use their blue recycling bin. You likely reinforced your phone with a steel cage and bullet-proof glass when you bought it, so take similar care and consideration when you no longer want it.



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Mitchell Logan

Mitchell Logan

Mitchell specializes in project management, process and continuous improvement, supply chain, and sourcing. He has over 10-years of experience working for large manufacturing and distribution corporations. When not working, he watches more sports than what some might consider healthy, experiments in the kitchen with new recipes, and enjoys time in the outdoors. He holds a BA in English from Ole Miss and a MBA from the University of Colorado – Denver. Favorite restaurant: Antico