Ask Eartha: How to recycle old electronics
Editor’s note: This column has been updated to correct the hours of the Summit County Resource Allocation Park.
I have a bunch of electronics on my Black Friday shopping list, and I am wondering what I should do with my old ones?
Although Black Friday will look a little different this year because of COVID-19, it is not going to stop millions of Americans from spending on the biggest shopping holiday. Despite a global pandemic, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are expected to break previous records, with Americans spending almost $150 billion.
New phones and electronic gadgets will make up a large portion of these sales, resulting in old electronics gathering dust. It is important to dispose of your electronics properly, not only because dumping electronics is illegal in Colorado, but also because they are hazardous to humans and the environment.
What is electronic waste?
Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to any discarded product with a battery, plug or circuit board. This includes phones, computers and TVs that are no longer working or no longer wanted. As gadgets get more sophisticated and advanced, older models are discarded for newer and more popular ones.
Today, electronic devices last little more than a couple of years, making e-waste one of the fastest growing waste streams. In 2019, a world record was set for the most e-waste ever generated, 53.6 million metric tons, according to the U.N. Environmental Program Report. By 2021, that number is predicted to surpass 57 million tons. What does this mean for the old electronics? Many of them are being discarded as trash, taking up space and wreaking havoc in our landfills, which is why recycling and recovery programs are becoming even more critical.
Why is e-waste a problem?
Less than 20% of global e-waste is recycled, meaning that most discarded electronics are sitting in landfills. Electronics look sleek and attractive on the outside, but inside they are composed of toxic heavy metals and hazardous chemicals such as lead, mercury and flame retardants. These toxic chemicals can contaminate our soil, water and air and can cause severe damage to human blood, kidneys and nervous systems.
Additionally, when electronics are thrown away, we lose out on the chance to recover precious resources such as platinum, gold and silver. New, or virgin, resources require more mining and drilling, not to mention more greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, if we recycle our electronics, we save energy and resources, and pollution is reduced.
How to recycle locally
In Summit County, you can recycle electronics free thanks to the Safety First Fund, approved by local voters in 2014. Simply gather your outdated and unwanted electronics and bring them to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park during their business hours from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Common items that are accepted include VCRs, DVD players, computer monitors, laptops and phones.
Electronic toys, speakers and items that are mostly plastic or wood are not accepted. Want to know if your item is recyclable? Check out HighCountryConservation.org, which offers an online search tool and a guide for hard-to-recycle items like electronics.
The Resource Allocation Park collects the electronics, which are picked up by Electronic Recyclers International. From there, your old electronic devices are demanufactured, recycled and/or refurbished in an environmentally responsible manner. They ensure that e-waste does not end up in landfills or illegally transported to other countries.
For all of you upgrading your phone, computer or other devices this holiday season, make sure you dispose of your old models responsibly. Not only will you be following Colorado state law, but you also will minimize the environmental impact and give old electronics a new life.
As always, feel free to reach out to the High Country Conservation Center at 970-668-5703 or firstname.lastname@example.org for any of your recycling questions.
Have a safe, happy and healthy holiday season!
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.
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