I came across an astonishing and worrisome statistic the other day: The weight of electronic waste worldwide is expected to jump by a third, to over 60 million tons annually by 2017, according to a new report.
The report is based on data compiled by “Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative” a partnership of UN organizations, industry, governments, nongovernmental, and science organizations shows that the United States produces the most “e-waste,” at more than 9 million tons a year. China, though, is not far behind, producing more than 7 million tons a year.
E-waste includes end-of-life refrigerators, TVs, mobile phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and other products with a battery or electrical cord.
Old electronic junk creates multiple problems. Because electronic devices are loaded with heavy metals -- things like lead, cadmium and mercury – it’s a problem when they want up in a landfill, where the toxic elements will leach into the ground and, sometimes, the groundwater. Even when recycled, a significant fraction of those old devices are sent to developing nations where people endanger their health by picking them apart so the various components can be resold.
Still, it’s much better to recycle it than to throw it away.
It’s very easy to find a site that accepts recycled electronic gear, but before you recycle your digital gadgets, there are a few things to remember.
- If you’re recycling a computer, remove the hard drive. Simply erasing data doesn’t real remove it; it can easily be retrieved. Beat on it with a hammer (kind of fun, actually) or leave it in a pail of water for a while, and then recycle it. There’s no need to spend money on a program to wipe the disk, unless you can’t figure out how to get it out of your computer.
- The same is true for your camera. Remove the memory card and smash it before it goes to the recyclers.
- Before you toss the smartphone, do a reset that wipes out all of your data -- after backing it up, of course.
- If you’ve been using iTunes, you need to deauthorize the device. Simply follow the directions in iTunes. You may need to deauthorize all of your devices, but don’t worry. You can simply reauthorize the ones you’re keeping.