Ask Eartha: E-waste collection day a chance to get rid of unwanted gadgets
January 23, 2015
I have a lot of old electronics stored in my garage that I have no idea what to do with. I heard it's illegal to dispose of them in the landfill, but my partner keeps bugging me to get rid of them. Any suggestions?
— Angie, Silverthorne
Great question, Angie. I'm sure you're not the only one with this issue, especially after the holidays when people tend to get a lot of new electronic devices and need to dispose of the old ones. Rapidly advancing technology creates obsolete electronic equipment at a much faster pace. Globalization exacerbates this by creating cheaper contraptions, making it easier for us to toss out the old and buy the new. The term "e-waste" refers to old computers, printers, televisions, VCRs and DVD players, phones, cameras and stereo equipment.
Have you seen "The Story of Stuff"? If not, I highly recommend checking it out on YouTube or storyofstuff.org. It discusses the reality of the materials economy from extraction, production, distribution and consumption to the final disposal of the products — something we often do not consider when buying that shiny new gadget. In other words, we do not consider the true costs of production. According to the United Nations, by 2017, the world's e-waste will grow by 33 percent from 49.7 million tons to 65.4 million tons.
My point here is not to make you feel guilty about accumulating old electronics. Aside from Luddites, we all collect e-waste if we partake in the modern economy. My first recommendation is to reconsider whether you need the new device. I know people who take pride in the fact that they still have a flip phone. Become a trend setter, eventually your electronics will become so outdated they turn into something cool and retro!
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All kidding aside, the newest gadget has a gratification factor of approximately a minute until you're dying to have the newer upgraded version with different bells and whistles. So try making your purchases stretch a little farther. Prolong the life of your devices by taking care of them, and if something breaks check to see whether it can be repaired before you replace it. Your wallet will thank you!
As consumers, we can vote with our dollar by supporting companies that are environmentally conscious and socially responsible. Greenpeace rates companies based on three criteria: energy and climate, greener products and sustainable operations. Some tech companies that rank high are Nokia, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe, Intel and Google. Do your research to see what kinds of materials were used in the production of the device you want to buy.
Electronics contain a lot of heavy metals and other hazardous materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury and brominated flame retardants. When not disposed of properly, these harmful materials can pollute our air, contaminate the soil and leach into our water sources. In the U.S. alone, 3 million tons of e-waste are produced each year. So when you do replace your archaic electronic equipment, make sure you're disposing of it properly. In the state of Colorado, it is illegal to dispose of electronics in a landfill. Often you can donate it or sell it. Some companies will take your old equipment back when you purchase a new device — known as product stewardship. Just make sure the company doesn't simply ship the waste overseas to countries where e-waste guidelines are not as stringent.
Here in Summit County, residents can now take their e-waste to free, semi-annual collection events. The first one takes place on Saturday, Jan. 31, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Summit County government, High Country Conservation Center and Electronics Recyclers International are facilitating the event and will collect electronics and unused pharmaceuticals at the Frisco Summit Stage Bus Barn, 0222 County Shops Road. The event, funded by the voter-approved Summit County ballot measure 1A, is open to all county residents for free. No commercial waste will be accepted. If you bring your old cell phones, they will be collected and sold to benefit the Advocates for Victims of Assault. So gather up all of those old electronics and clean out your medicine cabinet. If you have any questions about this free event, please visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org I'll see you on Saturday!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.