What is E-waste Recycling?

Proper E-waste Disposal is Important

Whether you’re at the office or at home, our lives are filled with technology to make things easier and more convenient. But when those products break, die, or become obsolete by newer technology, they become electronic waste (e-waste), which is a bit more complicated than just recycling something in a kerbside collection. So what exactly is e-waste, what are its issues, and how can we dispose of these products in a circular and environmentally-friendly way?

What is E-Waste?

E-waste is any product with electrical components that are broken or discarded. This can include items such as:

  • Cell phones
  • Computers
  • TVs
  • Printers
  • Batteries
  • Cords, wires, or power strips
  • Sound system equipment (radios, speakers, etc.)
  • Microwaves
  • Smartwatches
  • Video game consoles
  • Anything with a plug or batteries

In today’s digital age, where people are constantly upgrading to newer technologies and companies practice shady tactics like planned obsolescence to get us to buy more, there is more e-waste than ever before.

The Issue with E-Waste

Electronic devices are made from various materials – chemicals, precious metals, plastics, and other electronic components. Not only are many of these materials considered hazardous or toxic when disposed of improperly, but many are also very valuable and recyclable in the proper conditions.

One main issue with e-waste is that the metals inside electronics – such as cadmium, lead, and mercury – can leach into the ground and waterways, causing issues for wildlife, plants, and even humans.

Another issue is that electronics also contain many valuable materials such as gold, steel, aluminium, cobalt, and copper, which are highly sought after and easily recyclable. These materials are often mined in environmentally detrimental ways and under harsh conditions for the miners, so it's crucial we extend the life and value of those materials as possible. When e-waste isn’t properly disposed of, these materials go to waste sitting in landfills.

In 2019 alone, an estimated 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was reported worldwide. That number is up 21% in five years, signalling that e-waste is a growing concern. Given the environmental and human concerns with creating these products, and the issues that emerge from improper disposal, it’s essential that we recycle electronics wherever possible.

Ways to Recycle E-Waste

All that being said, knowing where or how to recycle electronics can often be challenging. After all, we can just put them in the kerbside bins, as they have to be carefully separated in order for each material to be recycled.

If you’re in an office or school, keep a collection bin of e-waste and ensure that everyone knows where it's at and what goes in it. By doing this, you’ll help to ensure that e-waste doesn’t end up in a landfill, and you’ll be able to bulk recycle products that are no longer used more easily.

Luckily, there are more and more places that are able to take back electronics, making it easier than ever before to do the right thing. Before recycling, though, it’s important to get all important information off the drives and wipe them of any sensitive information. Some recyclers also offer certified data wiping, but it’s good to do it first yourself.

Electronic Stores

Many big electronic stores have started introducing e-waste bins in their stores. They usually partner with an electronic recycling company to accept many (but not all) types of electronics. If you only have one or two products, this is a good option.

Company take-back schemes

Companies like Apple have introduced recycling for their electronic products such as phones, computers, and earphones that you can send in, or bring into a store. A bonus to this is that some devices may be eligible for credit, which is a nice perk to recycling.

Charity shops

If an electronic device still has life in it, even if it’s no longer useful to you, a great way to recycle it is by donating to a charity shop, where it can regain life with a new owner. However, check to ensure that the shop will accept electronic donations before dropping them off, or they may end up in the landfill after all.

Non-profit organisations

A great option for e-waste is to seek out non-profit organisations in your area that participate in electronic refurbishment or recycling. In New Zealand, Recycle A Device, takes old computers and gives them to students to learn how to refurbish them, and then gives them to people who need them. It’s a great initiative that not only teaches kids valuable skills, but keeps the devices out of landfills.

Electronic waste companies

Finally, you can search directly for electronic waste companies in your area that may be able to recycle electronics. This option may be best if you have a lot of e-waste that needs to be recycled securely, such as from an office or school. Many of these companies will do pick-ups, and certified data wipes to ensure nothing secure gets out.

Sustainability Centres/Groups

Many big cities have sustainability advocacy groups that continually work with companies and the communities to find solutions to problems. Some of these groups may even accept hard-to-recycle goods like e-waste. In Wellington, the Sustainability Trust has an electronics recycling programme to consolidate recycling into one convenient location.

Wrap Up

Before buying any electronics, either for personal or business use, consider whether end-of-life solutions are already in place. Some electronics brands have long recognised the need for robust product stewardship, and it’s great to support brands that understand the principles of a circular economy over those with no end-of-life solutions in place.

Whether you have an old TV that no longer works, work computers gathering dust in a storage closet, or appliances that are no longer used, it’s important to seek out ways to properly dispose of your e-waste. Doing so ensures that the products remain circular and prevent harmful chemicals from damaging the community and the environment.

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