Chances are you bought or received some new, high-tech electronic equipment over the past year or during the holidays. Even newer, higher-tech gear is being introduced this week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
What happens when changes in technology render your gadget obsolete? It becomes "e-scrap," one of the planet's fastest growing environmental concerns. E-scrap contains heavy metals and other toxins that can be hazardous to human health and the environment. For example, monitors and TVs can contain between two and eight pounds of lead and smaller amounts of other contaminants like cadmium and mercury.
As much as 4 percent of the municipal solid waste is e-scrap. Americans discarded more than 154 million computers in 2005, not counting the latest generation of game systems, cell phones, PDA's and MP3 players that will soon enough lose their glow and be replaced with some shiny new device.
To keep hazardous materials out of landfills, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency encourages Americans to recycle or reuse old electronic equipment.
"Recycling electronic equipment isn't quite as easy as leaving it in a bin in your front yard, as we've learned to do with paper and plastics, but health and environmental benefits of recycling e-scrap are tremendous," said EPA Region 5 Administrator Mary A. Gade, "Also, we know that half of the devices thrown away still work. They can be donated to non-profit organizations, which keep the device out of the landfill, but with the added benefit of a charitable contribution."
Gade pointed out that some manufacturers have established recycling programs for their electronic products, and that many communities in Illinois have drop-off points where people can take e-scrap for proper disposal.