Many Americans will be unwrapping new electronic devices this holiday season, and old models will be kicked to the curb — unless you live in New York state. On January 1, 2015, the state’s e-waste ban takes effect, making it illegal to dispose of electronic items including computers, printers, televisions, and more. Residents will be fined $100 for each violation. Instead of placing old devices in the trash or at the curbside, New Yorkers are urged to drop off unwanted electronics at a waste collection site or participate in a manufacturer’s take-back program.
What It Means
According to a 2012 report released by the UN, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. In 2011, approximately 41.5 million tons of electronic waste were generated, and the number is expected to double by 2016. Seventy percent to 80 percent of the U.S.’s old electronic devices end up in landfills. These items contain not only hazardous materials like cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and lead, which are harmful to human health if mishandled, but also valuable precious metals like silver and gold that could be recovered. The disposal problem will continue to grow as demand for electronics continues to increase. Local governments, like the state of New York, are intervening by passing e-waste legislation. So far, 25 states have e-waste laws on the books in various states of enactment; more are sure to follow.
What You Can Do
- Whether or not your state requires it by law, recycle your old gadgets. Visit the manufacturer’s website to find out specific recycling instructions for a given device. Does the company have a contract with a recycler? Apple contracts with Sims Recycling Solutions, which provides an easy online form that print shipping labels addressed directly to their local recycling plant. Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T have recycling programs too, and Best Buy accepts many kinds of electronic devices and appliances regardless of brand.
- Donate your phone to a charitable organization. There are numerous not-for-profits that will reuse or recycle your old electronics. Take a look at this list published by HowStuffWorks, which highlights a number of charities including Phones for Soldiers, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Flipswap - which will donate to the charity of your choice for each electronic device you turn in, and the American Cell Phone Drive, which will direct you to organizations near you who will take your old cell phones for fundraising.
- Buy smarter; consider the recyclability of your next gadget before you buy it. When the specifications between two competing brands are similar, consider making the environmental impact of the product a factor. Surprisingly, the smaller and lighter a device is the harder it becomes to recycle. Find out if the device uses standard screws, uses mostly glue, or if the device requires special tools for disassembly.