What happens to electronics when recycled?

Electronic waste examples

Computer recycling or e-recycling is the disassembly and separation of e-waste components and raw materials. Although reuse, donation and repair procedures are not strictly recycling, these are other common sustainable ways of disposing of IT waste.

In the world there is a huge population which uses a lot of items such as cell phones, computers, printers, televisions, game machines, which once they are no longer in use because technology companies make these devices stop working so you throw them away and buy a new one; these are often discarded to places in Africa or other remote places where unfortunately people live. Thousands of tons of waste are sent to parts of the world we don’t even know about, and the people who live there risk contaminating themselves and their environment.

The U.S. Congress is considering a number of e-waste bills, including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). Meanwhile, the main federal law governing solid waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. It only pertains to CRT monitors, although state regulations may differ. There are also separate laws concerning battery disposal. On March 25, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee approved funding for research on e-waste reduction and environmental impact mitigation, considered by sponsor Ralph Hall (R-TX) to be the first federal bill to handle e-waste directly.

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How to recycle electronic devices

Reduce, reuse and recycle, the well-known “3Rs” whose mission is to have a more sustainable planet, free of the excess of garbage that is present today. There are several materials that are discarded without due process and sometimes end up altering ecosystems and wildlife.

Although when you think of recycling, the first thing that comes to mind are the most common materials such as plastic, cardboard and glass, there is another type of waste that can also be treated: the recycling of electronics.

Electronics recycling presents many opportunities and benefits, both environmentally, socially and economically. If you become aware of the things you throw away every day that cannot be easily recycled, you will get an idea of how important it is to handle some waste in a specific way.

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How electronics affect the environment

When not stored in warehouses, drawers or cabinets, e-waste is often incinerated, thrown away or ends up being destroyed by hand by the world’s poorest people, to the detriment of their health and the environment.

Furthermore, it is estimated that by 2040, carbon emissions from the production and use of electronic devices will account for 14% of total emissions. This is half of the transportation sector today.

There is also confusion and misinformation among consumers in terms of how this waste should be handled. In many cases, materials that should be separated such as batteries, light bulbs, smart phones, cables and computers are thrown in the “normal” trash.

Examples of technological recycling

These discarded devices, and their components, can be recycled to a greater or lesser extent. In fact, the recycling of electronic components is practically mandatory in order to contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly world, and is one of the main reasons for choosing, or not, a data center decommissioning service provider, as we have seen.

The problem is that the ratio of recycling versus manufacturing of new devices is really low: it is estimated that only 15.5% of electronic components and devices are recycled worldwide. However, it is imperative that more and more companies recycle more and better electronic components and devices, for the good of the planet. Some more facts:

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In November 2017, the United Nations and all its member states signed up to an ambitious “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which defined 17 goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty and protect the planet. The increase in e-waste and its improper treatment are major challenges that prevent or slow down the achievement of these goals.