How proper disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) can play a major role
These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a student walking on a college or university campus without a cell phone. Whether listening to music, text messaging a friend, or looking up the menu for the dining hall, students notoriously rely on this pocket-sized technology to get them through the day. And, it doesn’t stop there. From laptops and computer labs to kitchen and laboratory equipment, it’s technology that keeps campuses across the country running. With a drive towards zero-waste at the forefront for many institutions of higher learning, having a strong electronics recycling program is critical to handling this constant flow of electronic waste.
What is electronic waste (e-waste)?
Electronic waste or e-waste, is “a term used to describe any electronic device that is outdated, obsolete, broken, donated, discarded, or at the end of its useful life.”1 Computers, keyboards, printers, copiers, televisions, calculators, laboratory equipment, and cell phones are all considered forms of electronic waste. In addition, some people lump batteries in this category as they contain some of the same chemicals.
How much e-waste is produced?
According to National Geographic, e-waste makes up the fastest growing category of waste in the United States.2 The 2014 Global E-Waste Monitor reported 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste generated in 2014.3 If you’re having a hard time visualizing that number, picture more than 15.3 million elephants or over 1,000 Freedom Towers (the tallest building in the United States).4
Why is recycling e-Waste important?
Allowing e-waste to hit the landfill is harmful to our environment as many electronics contain hazardous materials like lead, cadmium, copper, mercury, and chromium. When not properly disposed of, these chemicals contaminate our soil, water, and air causing harm to plants and animals everywhere. In addition to protecting our ecosystem, for colleges and universities, properly handling the disposal of e-waste allows them to protect the data security and privacy of students, faculty, and staff by destroying data prior to responsible disposal.
How can we be better at it?
Some groups estimate that nearly 75% of electronic waste ends up in landfills. That’s a simply staggering number that screams, “there’s room for improvement.” For colleges and universities, a strong e-waste recycling program and campus-wide campaign not only helps with the drive towards zero-waste but it educates future generations on the proper disposal of electronics. Here are a few quick tips for implementing or improving an e-waste program on your campus.
- Educate students, faculty and staff. Launch an awareness campaign to promote the importance of proper e-waste disposal. Partner with eco-friendly student groups to run the event and conclude with a large e-waste collection drive / challenge.
- Encourage adoption. Make e-waste recycling free and accessible. Placing clearly labeled bins in several high traffic, noticeable locations on-campus makes recycling e-waste more convenient and user friendly.
- Put together a plan for disposal. Once the e-waste gets collected, you’ll need to have a plan for proper disposal. This may include crushing or degaussing hard drives, removing parts like circuit boards to sell for scrap, refurbishing devices to resell, and more. Be sure to review any requirements that might exist in your State or community to ensure your plan is compliant.
- Partner with outside organizations to handle disposal. There are many organizations that help with the disposal of e-waste. Some are free, some are at a cost to you, and others will pay you to haul away your electronics. Regardless, you’ll want to properly vet each organization before you enter into a partnership to ensure they employ responsible practices and have a good reputation.
If your campus takes an innovative approach to eWaste, let us know! We’d love to feature you in an upcoming blog post. Contact us to share your story today – email@example.com.
- Earth Day Network: http://www.earthday.org/ewaste
- National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/geopedia/E-Waste
- Global Ewaste Monitor: http://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-small.pdf
- Assumes one metric ton is equal to 2,204 pounds, the weight of an elephant is 6,000 pounds, and the weight of the structural steel used to construct Freedom Tower is 40,000 metric tons.