Electronics: Reuse, Recycling, and e-Waste
Technology and electronic equipment such as computers/peripherals, cell phones, televisions and other audiovisual equipment evolve quickly, making earlier models obsolete, although they may be completely operational. In some cases, outside repair service and support for equipment is discontinued, or infrastructure is eliminated (e.g. switch from analog to digital TV), forcing replacement of current equipment. Most end-users have come to expect (and need) faster and better performing equipment, and readily replace newly-obsolete (but still operational) equipment.
The distribution and use of technology and electronic equipment has also become more widespread, with multiple pieces of equipment per person in nearly every household/workplace/school. Rapid evolution combined with growing, widespread use result in a dramatic increase in the number and variety of technology and electronic equipment for disposal. Such equipment contains hazardous materials such as heavy metals, other toxic metals, toxic chemicals, non-decomposing materials, even radioactive materials. Equipment also contains tiny amounts of precious metals (gold, palladium, platinum, silver). Some types of equipment are regulated as hazardous waste by EPA. Disposal via landfill presents persistent hazards to human-, animal-, and environmental health. Obsolete technology and electronic equipment must therefore be managed in an environmentally responsible manner.
Reuse, e-Cycling, and e-Waste. Terms used to describe end-of-service-life management of technology and electronic equipment are often used (incorrectly) interchangeably. Currently, there isn’t a specific, e-themed term that describes reusing used equipment whole or as components. Reuse includes reusing whole components, with or without modification, by new users; and disassembling components into sub-components (e.g. circuit boards, drives, etc.) for reuse. Most equipment from Lehman College is slated for reuse.
e-Cycling (also e-Recycling) describes disassembling equipment which is not suitable for reuse into their sub-components, and further breaking down these sub-components into new raw materials. Reuse and e-Cycling divert materials from disposal via landfill, and yields recycled raw materials that can be used to make new products.
e-Waste is waste that remains that cannot be reused or recycled. Reusable equipment that was not given the chance to be reused may end up becoming e-Waste. It is often hazardous waste that must be disposed of in accordance with EPA hazardous waste disposal rules. It is important to determine whether out-of-date equipment can be reused of recycled rather than simply giving up and calling it e-waste!
Laws governing the recycling of technology and electronic equipment have been promulgated on the New York State and New York City levels. At present, there are no federal (EPA) regulations with regard to recycling electronics, although it is considered hazardous waste, if it is determined to be a waste (i.e. not to be reused or recycled).
All but the most obsolete equipment can be reused whole if it is still in (mostly) working condition. Often the equipment can be refurbished and non-working components can be changed out with working ones to be made useful again. Many electronics manufacturers have instituted take-back programs. Take back programs allow consumers to return their equipment to manufacturers’ retail locations or another location in cooperation with the manufacturer. In NYC, a ban on curbside disposal of electronics has been phased in since 2011; at the end of the phasing-in period, households are required to dispose of electronics in an environmentally responsible manner beginning January 2015.