The hierarchy of E-waste redeployment in order of environmental and societal benefits is:

  • Reuse Whole
  • Repair/Remanufacture/Refurbish
  • Reuse/Recover
  • Recycle
  • Responsible Destruction

In this article, the first four options in this hierarchy will be referred to as 4R.

Circut Board

Enlightened Self-Interest

1. Limited space issues mandate the use of 4R. Electronics are the fastest growing sector in our waste stream. Often, potentially usable electronics are simply dumped in the back of a closet or in an attic.

2. Protect your privacy! When you merely throw away a computer or iPhone, a skilled information pirate can recover your credit card information and perpetrate fraud, or at the very least, spam your friends. Recycling is the way to go for peace of mind.

Minimizing Environmental Problems

3. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Recovering e-components keeps valuable resources in circulation, and avoids waste. Somebody may be able to use portions of your unwanted gadgetry. Check out craigslist or freecycle for potential recovery partners.

4. Use the 4R’s and help prevent bioaccumulation, which happens when flora or fauna absorb such high levels of toxins such as arsenic, copper and cadmium that they cannot get rid of them. Unfortunately, electronics recovery workers overseas without protective gear are victims of this phenomenon.

5. Air pollution results from burning of discarded electronics. Fumes from mercury, lead, chromium and other metals in circuit boards shunted off to less developed countries such as China create widespread health problems.

6. Toxins caused by the dumping of e-waste build up in the food chain. What a plankton absorbs is concentrated more intensely in the fish that eat that plankton. This increases further up the food chain, with humans and birds that eat the fish. This biomagnification process leads to debilitating illness and species extinction.

7. The leaching of the eight metals contained in e-waste into the groundwater fails a Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Protocol test, leading to biomagnification. These toxins (including lead, chromium also contaminate drinking water.

8. When children ingest lead via beverages and food, it can cause both learning disorders and behavioural problems. Kids can become distracted and cranky, and/or exhibit symptoms like stomach aches and headaches.

9. Erin Brockovich (both the real woman and the movie) brought the dangers of hexavalent chromium to light as never before. Trivalent chromium poisons the liver and kidneys.
10. The acid-water pollution created by improper disposal of e-waste effluent produces sulphur oxide and carbon monoxide. These substances can also cause acid rain.

Solving Environmental and Societal Problems

11. How are electronic components reclaimed? On an assembly line, workers in protective clothing take them apart so that machines with sensors detect the usable metals, so that they can be removed and sorted.

12. What are the benefits of refurbishment? It uses less energy than recycling, and gives new life to old devices. Cell phones are reclaimed by companies such as Virgin Mobile, reconfigured to be compatible with its systems and thus begin a new, useful life.

13. How does government e-waste recycling work? A state or local agency uses a collection facility to recycle equipment according to EPA-mandated standards. This usually means that the process produces no pollution.

14. Stimulate the economy by recycling your older equipment. This happens in two ways—by creating e-cycling jobs and establishing brand new markets for components.

15. Numerous private companies are stepping up and taking responsibility for the waste generated as America’s constant demand for new gadgets has climbed to 24 electronic items per family. These are called TakeBack programs, and many computer companies will, for a fee, accept returned models.

16. Be a do-gooder. Under funded education and enrichment programs can use recent, working computer equipment. If your computer is less than five years old and has newer ports, contact your local school board. Be sure to include all peripherals. Battered women’s shelters can use working cell phones.