The E-Waste Crisis: 6 Ways You Can Help

electronics waste in africa

 

E-Waste Crisis shown in a landfill

Updated December 2018

The U.S. throws away 9.4 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste) every year. Where does this go? It not only goes to our landfills, but to landfills around the world. Why is this bad? Electronics are filled with toxic materials that seep into the soil. Not only that, but electronics contain valuable metals that can be reused without needing to mine the earth more. It’s true, we have an e-waste crisis on our hands!

Our e-waste problems are serious, but if you’re here, you probably already know that. Here is what you can do to help!

6 E-Waste Solutions Everyone Can Do

Make sure you know where your e-waste goes

Just because they collect your electronic waste doesn’t mean they’ll recycle your e-waste. Be especially wary of flyers dropped off at your house asking you to put e-waste on the street. Often, these flyers neglect to identify their company name. This should be especially alarming. Make sure you give your e-waste to R2 or e-Stewards certified companies. These certifications designate responsible, environmentally friendly e-waste recyclers. Electronic recycling for San Francisco Bay Area residents can be done at GreenCitizen’s Burlingame EcoCenter. For those outside the Bay Area, check earth911.com.

Clear out your office

Businesses account for a majority of electronic waste generated. So it’s in the business sector where there is the most opportunity for progress. Do your part and request an e-waste business pick-up here.

Spread the word

The e-waste crisis is a serious problem, but one that flies under the radar. In San Francisco, it’s illegal to throw your electronic waste in the garbage, since it contaminates soil and drinking water when improperly disposed of in landfills. Making people aware of the issue and letting them know what they can do to recycle their electronics is a major part in solving this problem. Just like with battery recycling, a solid network of e-waste recycling will take work, but it can be done.

Repair

Extending the life of your electronics is one of the best steps you can take to help the environment. Repairing your items prevents waste from entering landfills, and lowers demand for new electronics. For an understandable tutorial on how to repair almost any electronic item, check out ifixit.com.

Show the value of electronics

Did you know that for every 1 million cell phones recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 75 pounds of gold, and 772 pounds of silver can be retrieved? That means that we could reuse those precious metals without mining the earth. Think of all the resources, like energy and labor, we could be saving!

Implore companies to embrace the circular economy

Only 12.5% of electronics are recycled every year. With so many new gadgets appearing all the time, this number should be much higher. We should make the case for tech companies to get onboard with the circular economy. This means we use electronics for as long as possible then rejuvenate their materials into new products, thus minimizing waste.

The effects of e-waste are not only detrimental to earth, but they’re also dangerous to our health. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to make the e-waste crisis a thing of the past.

For more information about the e-waste crisis and what you can do to help, give us a call at (650) 493-8700.

Support the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013

Support the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013

On July 23, 2013 H.R.279, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2013, was referred to the following two House Committees: the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. For a full summary of the bill, please click here

You can take action and help build broad bi-partisan support for this important piece of legislation in 3 easy steps:

1) Find your member of Congress online and write down their Washington address.

2) Fill in the Legislators address and sign your name on the Support RERA Letter (next page).

3) Mail letter to your legislator!

More Resources:

Electronics TakeBack Coalition – The Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry. Our goal is to protect the health and well being of electronics users, workers, and the communities where electronics are produced and discarded by requiring consumer electronics manufacturers and brand owners to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products, through effective public policy requirements or enforceable agreements.

 

 Letter Text

Dear Representative,

I am writing to you in support of H.R. 2791 the “The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013,” which prohibits the export of certain electronic waste from the United States. This legislation will promote sustainability, create green jobs, and ensure that the United States is responsibly handling the growing amount of electronic waste that is being consumed within our boarders. As your constituent, I urge you to co-sponsor this bi-partisan legislation.

Discarded computers, TVs, phones and other consumer electronics – commonly referred to as electronic waste or “e-waste” – now comprise the fastest growing waste stream in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the U.S. generates more than 3.4 million tons of e-waste a year. Improperly disposing of this material creates environmental, health, and national security risks.

RERA of 2013 ensures that e-waste generated in the United States is not ‘dumped’ on developing countries lacking the infrastructure to recycle the material in a non-harmful method. The serious impact on public health and the environment is at risk if we continue to export e-waste with known toxins to developing countries.

RERA will also create domestic green jobs. According to a study commissioned by the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling, restricting e-waste exports could create up to 42,000 direct jobs and indirect new jobs with a total payroll of more than $1 billion.

In conclusion, RERA is a win-win for the economy and the environment. It will create good-paying recycling jobs here in the U.S., while taking concrete steps to address a growing environmental and health crisis. Please support this legislation.

        Sincerely,

 

E-Waste: The Biggest Environmental Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of

e-waste crisis

The E-Waste Crisis

In 2008, 60 Minutes ran a piece revealing what actually happens to our old electronics when we throw them away. In The Wasteland, CBS correspondent Scott Pelley follows the trail of electronic waste (e-waste) all the way to China. There, he finds fields of old computers and TVs from America lit on fire by locals looking to burn away plastics and valuable metals (see pictures below). Pelley also interviews National Resource Defense Council senior scientist Allen Hershkowitz about the rapid increase e-waste. Hershkowitz cites the staggering statistic that Americans throws away 130,000 computers every day. That was six years ago. How are we looking today?

Well, the short answer is worse. According to an Electronics TakeBack Coalition report (based largely on EPA findings), Americans threw away 142,000 computers per day in 2010 (the latest year e-waste data is available), as well as 416,000 mobile phones.  With dramatically increased iPhone and tablet sales in 2012, these numbers have most likely risen. e-waste crisis

Yet, as eye-catching as these numbers are, the problem of e-waste has largely flown under the radar. How can this be? One main reason is America’s current waste management system. Public garbage collectors do not have the infrastructure to recycle e-waste. Indeed, this creates a catch-22. People are unaware of the e-waste crisis, so there is no push for mass system to handle electronic waste. Conversely, there is no system to handle electronic waste, so people remain unaware.

As a society, we generally refuse to pay for things to be recycled. Why should we pay to recycle, the thought process goes, when we can throw things in the garbage for free? This is a legitimate claim, and there are some perverse incentives at work here. It is free to do the wrong thing (throwing e-waste in the garbage), but costly to do the right thing (paying to recycle).

But here is the kicker, doing the wrong thing it isn’t actually free, and doing the right thing doesn’t have to be costly. Picking up and hauling away garbage has significant costs (like paying for trucks, gasoline, and wages), costs we cover with our tax dollars. City garbage and recycling systems are funded by the tax payer. Electronic recycling is not a part of these systems (yet), but if it were, it would be as easy and free to recycle our electronics as it is to throw them away. This is an ideal system, however, not our reality. e-waste (1)

This puts recyclers in a bind, and is largely why electronics is the fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide, according to Hershkowitz. Charging for recycling is not viable (because people have a financial incentive not to recycle) and no taxpayer-funded system to collect and recycle electronic waste exists on a mass scale.

This is where GreenCitizen steps in. At a GreenCitizen eco-center, you can drop off anything that plugs in or runs on batteries and we’ll recycle it for free. We also do more than 30 free electronics recycling pick-ups from business every week. So how can GreenCitizen recycle electronics without charging or receiving government funding? For the answer to that question, check out our blog post about VHS tapes to see how we process raw materials.

Written by Jake Hanft. Please contact him at jake.hanft@greencitizen.com with questions.

Is Styrofoam Recyclable? Styrofoam Recycling in San Francisco

can styrofoam be recycled safely?

Updated August 2019

Can you recycle Styrofoam? Yes and you should!

Contact GreenCitizen for Styrofoam Recycling in San Francisco

In fact, GreenCitizen conveniently offers Styrofoam recycling for San Francisco Bay Area residents and businesses at our Burlingame EcoCenter.

With coffee cups, packing peanuts, building insulation, and takeout boxes, you may be wondering if Styrofoam is as bad as they say. Unfortunately, this lightweight material packs a heavy punch against the environment.

Why Styrofoam is Bad

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified styrene, the material that makes up Styrofoam, as a possible human carcinogen.
  • It takes 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose. Every day, about 1369 tons of it ends up in a landfill.
  • When heated, Styrofoam releases toxic chemical which can hurt our health. In other words, reheating your restaurant leftovers in a microwave isn’t a good idea!
  • Sunlight exposure causes Styrofoam to create air pollutants that harm landfills and the ozone layer.
  • Styrofoam breaks into smaller pieces, which can become a choking hazard for scavenging animals in landfills.

Now that you know a little more about the detrimental effects of Styrofoam, we’re sure you want to recycle as much as you can. Keep in mind that we can only recycle Styrofoam that is white, clean, and unmarked, called Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). Luckily, this foam is 100% recyclable.

What is EPS Foam?

Technically, Styrofoam is the trademarked insulation foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company, but the word “styrofoam” usually refers to expanded polystyrene foam (like how we use the word “Kleenex” to refer to all brands of tissues).

EPS is a rigid foam often found in packaging and take-away containers. It’s one of the most frustrating materials we encounter. It takes more than 500 years for a Styrofoam food container to decompose and is often not cost effective, meaning recyclers lose money. So, the best course of action is to avoid buying products with EPS packaging, which includes online purchases. Fortunately, some companies now offer biodegradable solutions to help lessen Styrofoam’s toxic impact.

How to recycle Styrofoam
Figure 2: Florian Recycling some Styrofoam

How Does Styrofoam Recycling Work?

For now, accumulating some Styrofoam is almost inevitable, so we all have to do our parts and recycle what we can. Bring your EPS foam to GreenCitizen, where we have a handy Styrofoam condensing machine (see figure 2). We feed the white, unsoiled blocks of Styrofoam into the machine, which condenses it to roughly 1/90th of its original volume. It then slowly spits it out, like frozen yogurt. This tube of condensed foam helps make items like surfboards, cameras, jewelry cases, coat hangers, and ceiling molding (see figure 3). The Styrofoam you drop off is being reused and not taking up space in a landfill for the next five centuries. Visit our Burlingame EcoCenter and you can take a look at some condensed Styrofoam!

Ceiling-Molding
Figure 3: Ceiling Molding

Come by and drop off your EPS foam at any time. We charge $5 per 30 gallon bag. That’s a lot of Styrofoam! (see figure 4). We’ll also take your old electronics for recycling. We can even pick up your electronics and Styrofoam right from your office building!

Thank you so much for doing your part. GreenCitizen is proud to provide you with hassle-free Styrofoam recycling!

Figure 4: Roughly 60 Gallons of Styrofoam recycled at GreenCitizen
Figure 4: Roughly 60 Gallons of Styrofoam recycled at GreenCitizen

Get Paid for your iPhone, and Help Protect the Environment!

How Selling your Old iPhone to GreenCitizen Keeps other Electronics out of Landfills

GreenCitizen-iPhone-BuyBack

Electronic waste is the fastest growing portion our waste stream. Americans throw away 143,000 computers per day, and this presents a great problem…and a great opportunity. First the problem: an overwhelming majority of these 143,000 computers are not recycled, but tossed into landfills with other garbage. Aside from compounding our nation’s growing landfill problem, these computers contaminate our drinking water by slowly leaking toxins, like lead, into our groundwater. Often, computers are not dumped in landfills, but shipped overseas by illicit “recyclers” to landfills in Asia and Africa, where workers burn away the plastics of the computers to recover the more valuable metals. This process is disastrous for the environment, and is not unique to computers: Old TVs, printers, and appliances all face a similar fate.

But this problem also presents opportunity. In America, we often view our waste as a nuisance: waste is something to get rid of. But the idea of waste as a resource is gaining some traction. Companies like GreenCitizen, which makes a profit off of people’s discarded items, are a novelty now, but may be far more common in the future. The world’s resources are limited, and as prices for raw materials continue to rise, markets for raw materials will begin looking in new places to fulfill demand. One of those places is our waste stream.

GreenCitizen-iPad-BuyBack-300x225

Now, believe it or not, that old malfunctioning printer you have which you bought for $40 a couple years ago has no value. To fix it would cost more than its sale price. Like a car after a bad accident, it is totaled. And the same story is true for its raw materials. The cost of extracting and separating the printer’s raw materials into usable resources exceeds the value of those raw materials. This may change in the future as resources become scarcer, but for now the grim reality is that recycling such items won’t pay for itself.

But here is where your old iPhone comes in. Selling your old iPhone to GreenCitizen directly supports the recycling of “totaled” electronics. After erasing all data from your iPhone (or laptop, or smartphone, or tablet), GreenCitizen resells it to someone in America, using its technical know-how and wide market reach to command a higher price. But it doesn’t just pocket the profits. GreenCitizen uses them to prevent more than 200,000 pounds of electronic waste from entering our nation’s landfills every month. And that is what sets GreenCitizen apart: it sacrifices its profits to preserve the environment. As a result, you can responsibly recycle your old printer (or computer, or microwave, or refrigerator) for free. So skip the craigslist hassles. Sell your iPhone back to GreenCitizen, put some money in your pocket, and help preserve the environment. When you do, everybody wins.

Please email questions to jake.hanft@greencitizen.com.