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What Is the Proper Method of Electronic Disposal?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Proper methods for disposing of electronics include donating the equipment to charities, selling it to buy back centers, or taking it to a recycling center. Environmental and health agencies recommend using any means that prevents used electronics, commonly called e-waste, from entering landfills. These organizations also suggest that consumers making future purchases invest in electronic appliances containing less harmful materials.

Batteries, cell phones, and personal computers are some examples of electronics that require special disposal methods. These items typically contain materials made with toxic metals and chemicals including cadmium, lead, and mercury. When these objects end up in landfills, exposed to moisture, the toxic substances eventually contaminate the soil and water. Many of these toxic substances have the potential to cause cancer, endocrine and reproductive disorders, and other health problems. The materials used in many electronics products are not biodegradable and do not deteriorate over time.

Electronic disposal includes donating items to various local charities and organizations, which generally welcome electronic equipment donations. Some local facilities readily recirculate products back into the community by donating computers, DVD players, televisions, and other electronic items to schools, senior centers, or families who cannot afford to buy them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, provides links to charities and other organizations willing to reuse or recycle electronic equipment.

Some organizations do not require functional equipment. These facilities obtain used items, refurbish or repair the equipment, and donate the products to various charities. Many companies and corporations that sell cell phones, computers, and other household electronics provide consumers the opportunity to trade old equipment for upgraded versions. The companies then take the responsibility for proper electronic disposal.

Buy back companies generally offer consumers the option of electronic disposal by sending or taking a product to a particular location in return for a small monetary reward. Companies typically pay shipping costs, provide a list of accepted equipment, and a list of buy back prices. Individuals may also sell equipment at reduced prices by advertising locally.

There are many electronics recycling centers, but not all of these facilities are certified. Studies indicate that many centers ship at least 80% of consumer electronic products to Asian countries. Workers in these electronic disposal factories typically dismantle the equipment by hand, exposing them to the toxic substances contained within. Disposal methods in these countries do not guarantee that the products will undergo appropriate recycling. Some believe that the number of electronic products in the world received by these countries eventually contributes to greenhouse gas effects in other areas of the world.

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