eCycling: the Future is NOW!

By Elizabeth Myer

A few years back, Greening the Apple blogger Sophia Kelley and I worked with the EPA on a series of Electronics Recycling (eCycling) initiatives. eCycling, for those not familiar with the term, is the process of reclaiming electronics from the waste stream, either as whole units ready to be re-used by another consumer, or as parts for materials recovery. I won’t speak for Sophia, but I first became a personal advocate for promoting proper eCycling practices in 2009 when EPA partnered with the band O.A.R. for their Green Dream recycling tour. In October of that year, EPA and the College Music Journal (CMJ) got together during the epic annual CMJ Music Marathon. CMJ went “green” and we helped by setting up shop in their exhibition room with a box for recycling used and unwanted cell phones, cameras, chargers and other electronics. We even went on to record a podcast on the subject!

E-waste on the banks of the Hackensack River (EPA photo)

So why, after all this time, is eCycling still an issue that I feel the need to explore? Perhaps because so many people are still clueless about how serious and widespread this issue is. The desire shared by many Americans to constantly upgrade to the latest cell phone/iProduct/tablet has contributed to a scary reality: electronic waste (e-waste) is growing 2-3 times faster than any other waste stream! Why should that concern you? For one, electronic devices are often composed of materials (lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury) that could pose risks to the environment and human health if not disposed of properly. Another great reason to donate your used electronics (so long as they still work) is for the benefit of others who may not be able to afford them otherwise.                   

A colleague recently reminded me of an episode of 30 Rock which mocked the reality that New Yorkers often have drawers and closets stuffed with old, unwanted electronics. The segment indicates that many people know that e-waste is bad, but they have no clue where or how to dispose of their old chargers, laptops, cell phones, etc.  EPA has an eCycling locator, complete with links to external sites (like Earth 911) with great resources for finding eCycling centers near your home.

A final tip: don’t forget to erase all personal and confidential data on the old equipment before sending it for recycling or reuse. Happy eCycling!