by Caitlin Gibson
As technology evolves, people are stuck with finding what to do with their old devices.
In 2019, the world produced 48.6 million tons of electronic waste (Staggering E-waste facts & statistics 2022, 2022). Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a modern issue about what happens to our trash. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection put in place the Covered Device Recycling Act. The act bans residents from throwing out e-waste and requires electronic businesses to provide recycling for the products they produce.
The following products count as e-waste:
- computers (desktop/laptop)
- phones (smartphones/flip phones/cordless landlines)
- digital cameras
- gaming consoles
- flash drives
It is important to note that items like kitchen appliances, televisions, and light bulbs cannot be recycled. Some programs will accept certain kinds of batteries, but they are also not considered e-waste.
E-waste can’t be thrown away because the products could contain toxic materials (ex. mercury, arsenic), and these materials could leak into the environment if not properly disposed of. The recycling of e-waste can also recover materials like gold and copper (yes, gold is in your electronics). The recycled products give companies a chance to reuse materials instead of using up natural resources.
Finding a recycling center for e-waste is considerably easy. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection actually provides a list of drop-off locations and areas that have curbside pick-up in counties across Pennsylvania. In Lancaster city, there are 7 different drop-off locations, including:
- Goodwill Stores (121 Rohrerstown Rd. and 2353 Lincoln Hwy East)
- Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (1299 Harrisburg Pike)
- Salvation Army Family Store (1244 Manheim Pike)
- Staples Retail Stores (1296 Lititz Pike and 2350 Lincoln Hwy East, Ste 700).
- uBreakiFix (1939 Fruitville Pike)
There are also EPA approved websites that provide recycling center locators, like Earth911.
Not only are there drop-off locations, but some Pennsylvanian communities also put on one day collection events for hazardous household materials. Lancaster county has an ongoing program, and residents can contact organizer Michelle Mathason at (717) 397-9968 for details (HHW collection programs).
If physical drop-off isn’t accessible, some e-waste recycling programs offer a mail-in program, like waste management company WM.
Searching for approved, certified recycling centers is important. Recycling at uncertified centers makes unstable outcomes for the materials. E-waste could still up in landfills, harm the environment, or harm the workers at these centers (Earth911, 2021).
It also encouraged to refurbish and donate old electronics that are in working condition. Donating allows others to purchase electronics sustainably. It will reduce the amount of packaging used and the amount of materials mined to make new devices.
Before recycling or donating, it is suggested to wipe devices of previously stored information. If the information is important, make sure to back it up on a separate memory device. Some recycling locations will wipe the memory from products that need it, but donations do not have this process.
When e-waste is recycled, it’s separated into plastic, metals, and circuitry. The plastic bits are recycled like how other plastics are. The same can be said for metals: there are gathered and repurposed. The metals are extracted through the circuitry (circuit boards, hard disks) being smelted and shredded, or having strong magnets pull the metals out.
The batteries have their own special process. The batteries in these electronics are usually Lithium-ion, which contains materials like cadmium. For small batteries that can be removed from the product, electrical tape should be placed over the batteries’ ends and placed in a plastic bag. This will help prevent injuries and fires. For batteries that can’t be removed, they can be left for the center to handle.
Recycling our e-waste will help conserve energy and make our world a little greener.
For questions about e-waste recycling, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has a recycling hotline: 1-800-346-4242
It is common practice for developed counties to send their trash to developing countries. Although some countries could use this opportunity to get into the recycling business, more often than not the trash is incinerated. This causes toxic fumes to waft into the air in these developing countries. However, in 2021, the Basel Convention started to curb the amount of waste tossed to countries in need. Now, nations have to get written consent before exporting their trash. 187 nations took this oath, but the United States is not one of them. The U.S. has sent more than 800 million pounds of plastic to other countries within this past year. (Winters, 2022).
An electronic’s life span could range from 3 to 7 years. If this is the technology age, then why do our devices not last so long? Some issues reside in the battery that declines over time. The lithium battery in most of our electronics are secured inside, making them irreplaceable. There is also an issue with software. As software updates come, older models can’t catch up. Both of these common issues means buying newer models, but, with 57.4 million tons of e-waste accumulating in 2021, this isn’t not very sustainable. It’s important to recycle e-waste to keep up with these trends.
Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority
The Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority is a trash collection and processing plant that prides itself on its environmental stewardship. Only a 15 minute drive from Millersville, LCSWMA accepts trash directly from residents, or they will collect it through their privately employed collectors. They do drop-offs for trash, household hazardous waste, and recycling. They also proved CNG, compressed natural gas, for a cleaner fuel source for garbage trucks. They have a vision of making waste management more sustainable. As of 2021, they were able to recycle 46.5% of material that came in. LCSWMA is also apart of the Wildlife Habitat Council and participates in habitat conservation.
Lithium is a metal element that is soft and silver/white. Although it’s a metal, Lithium has been used to treat Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, depression, and other conditions. Although Lithium can be used in small doses, large exposure can cause serious effects. Lithium exposure can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, muscle weakness, and seizures. It can also affect the thyroid, kidneys, and heart. Lithium should not be handled directly without proper PPE. Without PPE, it can irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs. Long exposure could cause fluid to build up in the lungs. Lithium is a explosion hazard and can ignite spontaneously. Lithium is also corrosive when interacting with water or moisture.
Earth911. (2021, July 28). What happens to E-waste when it gets recycled? Earth911. Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://earth911.com/business-policy/what-happens-to-e-waste-when-it-gets-recycled/#:~:text=However%2C%20most%20electronic%20waste%20still,the%20detriment%20of%20the%20environment.
HHW collection programs. Department of Environmental Protection. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Land/Waste/SolidWaste/HazardousWaste/Household/Pages/HHW-Collection-Programs.aspx
Staggering E-waste facts & statistics 2022. Toner Buzz. (2022, March 9). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://www.tonerbuzz.com/blog/e-waste-facts-statistics/
Winters, J. (2022, April 21). Rich countries are illegally exporting plastic trash to poor countries, data suggests. InvestigateWest. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.invw.org/2022/04/18/rich-countries-are-illegally-exporting-plastic-trash-to-poor-countries-data-suggests/