Purging e-Waste


I became consciously aware of e-waste – discarded TVs, monitors, computers, cell phones, batteries – when I lived in Germany. Germany has a very strict policy about trash and recycle, as do most countries in the European Union.

When I first arrived in country, I found it very frustrating! I had to separate everything, including biodegradable foods like veggie scraps. Initially, it took me a long time to divide out all the trash. But over time, the process got faster and my appreciation for Germany’s earth-friendly regulations grew more and more.

After my European trash experience, you can imagine my surprise when I read this statistic in a recent Parade magazine: More than 1.5 million tons of e-waste are thrown into U.S. landfills every year.

The consequence of e-waste? Electronics are full of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. For example, an old TV can contain between 4-8 pounds of lead; a big screen TV may have even more. These heavy metal toxins in trashed electronics are released into the air and water. All in all, about 40% of the heavy metals in landfills come from electronic equipment discards.

If you are trying to get organized and find that you are purging e-waste with your regular trash, I encourage you to read the short article from Parade magazine called “The Dangers of e-Waste.” For a more in-depth look, check out the Electronics Take Back Coalition web page.

What are some steps you can take as a consumer to decrease e-waste?

(1) If it’s working…

(a) Donate it to schools or nonprofit organizations.

(b) Give it someone you know who might be nursing really old equipment along, perhaps because they are frugal or perhaps because they cannot afford an upgrade. They will more than likely be happy to take the item off your hands.

(2) If it’s broken…

(a) Find out if your state has an e-waste program. Currently, only 10 states plus New York City have passed laws creating statewide e-waste recycling programs.

(b) Send the item back to its manufacturer. Companies like Apple, Dell, and Sony will take back their products, although you may have to pay for shipping costs.


7 thoughts on “Purging e-Waste

  • March 19, 2008 at 10:20 am

    I had no idea Costco did that – great tip!

  • March 19, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for that tidbit! What a great program. I just wish that I lived near a Costco to take advantage of it!! 🙂 But in the very least, I can always share with friends, fam, and readers…

    Carmen’s last blog post..Get Organized: Die, Junk Mail, Die!

  • March 19, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Carmen, we’re thinking along the same lines. I’m running a series of articles on my blog called the Definitive Guide to E-waste.

    Part 1 (What’s the Big Deal) is here:

    Part 2 (Old Cell Phones) is here:

    The next part will deal with picking a good place to recycle – not all recycling is created equal.

    Jeri Dansky’s last blog post..Ethical Question: Donate the Baby Bottles?

  • March 25, 2008 at 3:17 am

    I am also in Europe, where we have severe laws about separating items from the trash. Unfortunately I just read a depressing article in National Geographic about “recycling centers” in the US and elsewhere that sell their e-waste to 3rd world countries – effectively making all that junk “someone else’s problem.” (sigh)

    Only a handful of companies in the US are actively trying to recycle what is essentially a chemical filled plastic box. and they are overwhelmed. The best advice NG gave was what you said in the beginning — donate your working computer to someone who can use it, or try to upgrade your machine, or send it back to the manufacturer.

    These items are built to be obsolete, and if we buy into the media hype that we constantly need newer and faster electronics – then it should be the shady manufacturers that have to deal with the result of all that waste.

  • March 8, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for sharing.

    Decreasing e-waste is needed at the moment to help the environment in my opinion.

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