Recycling Household Electronics: How to reduce the amount of household electronic waste you create

Recycling Household Electronics: How to reduce the amount of household electronic waste you create

How to reduce the amount of household electronic waste you create


  1. Reusing and donating
  2. Recycling
  3. Buying green

You can reduce the environmental impact of electronics at the end of their useful life through reuse and donation, recycling, and buying greener electronic products.

Reusing and Donating Electronics

pile of computersPreventing waste in the first place is usually preferable to any waste management option...including recycling. Donating used (but still operating) electronics for reuse extends the lives of valuable products and keeps them out of the waste stream for a longer period of time. Reuse, in addition to being an environmentally preferable alternative, also benefits society. By donating your used electronics, you allow schools, nonprofit organizations, and lower-income families to obtain equipment that they otherwise could not afford.

Before donating your computer or other electronics, make sure the equipment is reusable. Donation organizations have limited or in many cases no resources and employees to diagnose and repair hardware. A functional, working system-especially with monitor, wiring, and software licenses-is a lot more useful and requires less upgrading than a nonworking, incomplete computer. Check to see what the donation organization's minimum computer requirements are (e.g., Pentium processor, Windows 95). Donation organizations might not accept (or might charge a fee for) older, less useful equipment (e.g., 386 processors, dot matrix printers, less than 14 inch color monitors).

As a business, you might be able to take advantage of tax incentives for computer equipment donations. The 21st Century Classrooms Act encourages large companies to donate computer equipment to public and private schools. When donating equipment to a nonprofit organization, inquire about documentation that can be applied toward your income tax return.

The most appropriate donation organization for computers can vary from area to area. In some cases, the most viable donation organization might be a charity, but in other areas, the appropriate donation organization might be the local school district or materials exchange. Visit Ten Tips for Donating a Computer to learn more.

See Donation Programs for organizations with information about donating your electronic equipment.

 

electronics collection event

Recycling Electronics

If donation for reuse or repair is not a viable option, households and businesses can send their used electronics for recycling. Recyclers recover more than 100 million pounds of materials from electronics each year. Recycling electronics helps reduce pollution that would be generated while manufacturing a new product and the need to extract valuable and limited virgin resources. It also reduces the energy used in new product manufacturing.

One thousand or more municipalities offer computer and electronics collections as part of household hazardous waste collections, special events, or other arrangements. In addition, public and private organizations have emerged that accept computers and other electronics for recycling. Fifty percent of the materials in a personal computer can be recycled. Depending on where you live and the amount of equipment you have, the best recycling option might be a county recycling drop-off center, TV repair shop, charitable organization, electronics recycling company, or even your local electronics retailer, which might collect used products and send them to a recycler. You can learn more about local electronics recyclers and collection events at EIA Environment - Consumer Education Initiative.

Many electronics manufacturers are accepting used household electronics for recycling. In some cases, these services are provided free-of-charge. Asset management and recovery programs have been available to major corporations and large purchasers of electronic equipment for quite some time. Now, electronics manufacturers are beginning to offer similar services for households and small businesses. The consumer pays to mail the product back. Fees keep changing, but generally range from seven dollars up. Some manufacturers and retailers are offering free or for-a-fee events in communities.

See Recycling Programs for organizations with information about recycling your electronic equipment.


Buying Green

Environmentally responsible electronics use involves not only proper end-of-life disposition of obsolete equipment, but also purchasing new equipment that has been designed with environmentally preferable attributes. Think about this when purchasing new equipment, and ask your retailer or electronics supplier about environmentally preferable electronics. Households, companies, and governmental organizations can encourage electronics manufacturers to design greener electronics by purchasing computers and other electronics with environmentally preferable attributes and by requesting takeback options at the time of purchase. Look for electronics that:

  • Contain fewer toxic constituents.
  • Use recycled materials in the new product.
  • Are energy efficient (e.g., showing the Energy Star label).
  • Are designed for easy upgrading or disassembly.
  • Use minimal packaging.
  • Offer leasing or takeback options.
  • Have been recognized by independent certification groups (such as TCO or Blue Angel) as environmentally preferable.
    • TCO Development, a company owned by TCO (Sweden), strives to create conditions for a good work environment at office workstations through the development of systems for quality and environmental labeling of office equipment and through work environment assessments of offices. All products recognized by TCO must have low emissions and be ergonomically designed for simple use in addition to having minimal environmental impact. These impacts include meeting strict requirements regarding the presence of environmentally-dangerous substances such as heavy metals and brominated flame retardants as well as low emissions of dust and ozone into the working environment. The product must be suitable for recycling, and the manufacturer must have a clear environmental profile by complying with ISO 14001 or EMAS to be certified.
    • Blue Angel, the world's first ecolabeling program, was created in Germany to promote environmentally-sound products. Within the program, 71 product groups have been identified. An Eco-Label Jury composed of industry, environmental associations, trade unions, churches, and public authorities, scrutinizes product groups bi-annually. Criteria for Blue Angel certification include environmental attributes such as the efficient use of fossil fuels, reduced impact on the climate, reduction of greenhouse gas emission, and resource conservation.


What EPA Is Doing To Encourage Reuse, Recycling, and Greener Purchasing of Electronics

The Plug-In To eCycling Campaign is one of many new efforts under EPA's Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC) which seeks to increase the national recycling rate to 35 percent, among other goals. The campaign aims to get the word out about opportunities to reuse and recycle your old computers, TVs, and cell phones, and to build momentum for even more reuse and recycling programs. Under the RCC, EPA is working with electronics manufacturers, retailers, and government agencies to reduce the environmental impacts of electronic products during their production, use, and disposal. The Agency will also establish partnerships and alliances with industry, states and environmental groups; provide training, tools and technology assistance for businesses, governments and citizen groups and get the word out through outreach and assistance to the general population, especially to youth and minority groups.

Overall, EPA's goal is to promote greater electronics product stewardship. Product stewardship means that all who make, distribute, use, and dispose of products share responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of those products. EPA intends to work towards this goal in three ways:

  1. Foster a life-cycle approach to product stewardship, including environmentally conscious design, manufacturing, and toxics reduction for new electronic products.
  2. Increase reuse and recycling of used electronics;
  3. Ensure that management of old electronics is safe and environmentally sound; and

EPA is currently working with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to meet these goals. The aim is to make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers, retailers, recyclers, manufacturers, and governments at all levels to help divert these products into environmentally sound reuse and recycling outlets, as well as reduce the environmental footprint of electronic product use.