Did you get a new phone recently? How about a laptop, printer, TV, electronic game, toy or small kitchen appliance? We are constantly upgrading and buying new electronics, but what do we do with the old ones we no longer want, or are no longer working? We are producing more and more electronic waste (e-waste) than ever before, and only 20 percent of it is recycled worldwide. Here are some facts about e-waste, including what you can do to reuse or recycle it responsibly.
According to the United Nations, almost 45 million tons of e-waste were discarded globally in 2016, and this amount is projected to increase 3-4 percent every year. About 20 percent is recycled safely, 4 percent is disposed of in landfills, and the fate of the remaining 76 percent is unknown, but is likely either dumped or recycled in unsafe conditions. According to the UN, about a third of e-waste from the U.S. is shipped to developing countries, where it is often recycled in a way that is unsafe to both human health and the environment.
Electronics contain valuable metals that are extracted during the recycling process. According to the EPA, for every one million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium (a precious metal) can be recovered. Electronics also contain heavy metals which can leach into soil and water when dumped or placed in a landfill, and can be dangerous to workers who recycle them without proper safety equipment.
Knowing all of this, how can you dispose of old electronics responsibly? If they are still working, you can sell or donate them. Bring working electronics and small appliances (no old CRT TVs and computer monitors) to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Savers, or call Hartsprings Foundation (Big Brothers/Big Sisters) to pick them up. The Hospice Shop in Northampton takes small household appliances, but no computer equipment.
If electronics are non-working, bring or send them for recycling to:
- Staples — They accept computers and accessories, audio and video devices, phones, video games, and a few kinds of small appliances at no charge. No TVs, lamps, or kitchen electronics. Search Staples Recycling to see the full list.
- Best Buy — They accept computers and accessories, audio and video devices, phones, video games, cameras, and a short list of small appliances at no charge. $25 charge for TVs and monitors. Search Best Buy Recycling for the full list.
- Goodwill — Through the Dell Reconnect program, you can bring any brand of desktop or laptop computers and accessories to Goodwill, and Dell will collect and recycle them.
- Northampton Computer Repair — They take all desktop and laptop computers, phones, and flat panel monitors and TVs under 40” at no charge. Check to make sure they have storage available.
- Valley Recycling — They take any electronics or small appliances for a small fee. Fees vary. Check their list at https://www.valley-recycling.us/.
- Municipal Transfer Stations — Most transfer stations take electronics and appliances for recycling (fees apply) if you have a sticker. Some towns also have electronics collection events.
- Hasbro and Terracycle Toy Recycling Program — These companies have teamed up to offer free recycling for any old toys and games, including electronic ones. Go to www.terracycle.com and search Hasbro Toy Recycling Pilot Program.
- Cell Phones for Soldiers — Donate working phones for soldiers to use overseas. They also accept non-working phones for recycling. See www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com.
Mimi Kaplan is the waste reduction coordinator for the Town of Amherst Department of Public Works.