Electric and electronic equipment comprises 6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, up from 5 percent 10 years ago, although the process of manufacturing an electronic device hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. Significant amounts of natural resources and fossil fuels are consumed in making these new devices.
To manufacture one computer and monitor—made of steel, aluminum, plastic, copper and gold—it takes 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water.
Many electronic devices contain such toxins as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, all of which pose a hazard to the community, environment and workers if not managed properly. Electronic waste, or E-waste, constitutes as much as 5 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream and continues to grow five times faster than all other waste streams. The electronic waste industry represents a $40 billion industry. Millions of devices are recycled each year, representing a significant amount of hazard, but also a significant amount of value in their component commodities.
The exponential growth of the industry and low barrier to entry has created thousands of jobs and new business opportunities. Without proper oversight though, hundreds of “electronics recyclers” have started operating recycling events for you to recycle your electronic device. In 2011, the owners of a recycling corporation in Colorado were convicted of fraud and environmental crimes related to shipping thousands of hazardous computer monitors and televisions to third-world countries for “recycling.”
They obtained the equipment by advertising proper recycling in the USA, when in fact they were shipping the material halfway around the world. In this way, millions of pounds of electronic waste is dumped illegally in the United States and abroad.
Beginning in 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, equipment manufacturers, electronic recyclers and non-governmental organizations recognized the need for oversight. The collaboration between these groups crafted two standards: Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards, for the purpose to rigorously audit electronic recyclers for responsible recycling and reuse of electronic equipment.
The standards include verification of a recycler’s refurbishment and end of lifecycle recycling processes. Both establish guidelines for protecting the environment, information security and worker’s health and safety. Compliance with these standards is facilitated via third-party audits by accredited registrars, similar to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification. The importance of using an R2 or e-Stewards certified recycler to recycle electronics is that now there is verification that the recycler has been audited by a third party and their processes have been found to be compliant with the e-waste industry’s best practices.
With each new device purchased in the United States, we remain the largest contributor in the world to the electronic waste industry. It is important to ensure that it is managed properly to protect ourselves, our community and the workers that are responsible for recycling the devices. Please use a certified recycler for disposal
Mike Wisecup is a business development executive at Global Electric Electronic Processing (GEEP), a global leader in electronic asset management and end-of-life electronics recycling, located in Grand Prairie. The facility is certified to ISO (9001 and14001) and Responsible Recycling (R2) standards. For more information, visit GEEPglobal.com.