Saturday, September 20, 2014

Electronics and E-Waste Recycling

Electronic waste, or more well-known as e-waste, is a popular and fairly informal name for electronic
products that are near the end of their useful life. Every day non-working or unwanted electronics end up in the landfill. The detriment to our environment with respect to the air, soil, and drinking water was not known or understood until more recently.  The definition of Electronic Waste was not specifically understood either.

Generally, the agreed-upon definition of e-waste is usually more of a theory and a list of examples rather than a hard and fast specific definition.

According to the Solving The E-waste Problem (STEP) initiative, e-waste is a term used to cover almost all types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that has or could enter the waste stream. Although e-waste is a general term, it can be considered to cover TVs, computers, mobile phones, white goods (e.g. refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, etc), home entertainment and stereo systems, toys, toasters, kettles – almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply.

Some unwanted electronic products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled, but considering the extremely fast pace that quickly renders electronics obsolete, these items are far less likely to be fixed or reused as they are to just be disposed of.

The STEP initiative began with the intensive examination of the relationship between electronic devices, especially computers, and the environment led to a book project which was published under the title "Computers and the Environment" in 2003.

While researching for the book, many more questions concerning this subject matter were identified. The topic was then expanded from computers to a more broad field encompassing all electrical and electronic equipment. The book led to the development of an international STEP initiative.

The 5 basic principles of this initiative are:

     1. STEP's work is founded on scientific assessments and incorporates a comprehensive view of
         the social, environmental and economic aspects of e-waste.

     2. STEP conducts research on the entire life cycle of electrical and electronic equipment and
         their corresponding global supply, process and material flows.

     3. STEP's research and pilot-projects are meant to contribute to the solution of e-waste problems.

     4. STEP condemns all illegal activities related to e-waste including illegal shipments and
         re-use / recycling practices that are harmful to the environment and human health.

     5. STEP seeks to foster safe and eco- and energy-efficient re-use and recycling practices around
         the globe in a socially responsible manner.

The objectives of the STEP initiative included:
  • Optimize the life cycle of electrical and electronic equipment by

    • Removing toxins and substances that become toxic toenvironments in backyard recycling (e.g. PVC in wire-cabling)
    • Enhancing re-use, such as labeling systems on parts
    • Enhancing the recyclability of materials in end-of-life-electronics

  • Increase utilization of resources and promote re-use of equipment
  • Exercising concern about disparities such as the digital divide between the industrializing and industrialized countries
  • Increase public, scientific and business knowledge
Donating used electronics for reuse extends the lives of valuable products. Recycling electronics prevents valuable materials from going into the waste stream. Consumers now have many options to recycle or donate for reuse their used electronics. Many computer, TV, and cell phone manufacturers, as well as electronics retailers offer some kind of take back program or sponsor recycling events.

About half of the states currently have laws on disposal and recycling of electronics and several other states are considering passing similar laws.

Unfortunately, not every electronics recycler follows environmentally sound recycling practices. Responsible electronics recyclers and refurbishers can now become certified by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third party that they meet available standards on responsible recycling practices. EPA encourages all electronics recyclers to become certified and all customers to choose certified recyclers.
To learn more about recyclable items visit

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