As we commemorate the 47th annual Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a message for individuals or businesses thinking about throwing old electronic equipment and gadgets in the trash: Don’t. The agency, along with many other public and private organizations, is encouraging people to find ways to re-use or recycle the electronic machines and devices that seem to be produced by the millions each day.
The agency estimated that every 1 million recycled mobile devices can potentially yield 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium. One million recycled laptops can save the same amount of electricity that's used by 3,500 U.S. homes in a year, according to the EPA.
The EPA defines four stages in the lifecycle of an electronic device: raw materials acquisition and manufacturing; purchase and use, including use by the original purchaser and, ideally, use by a second or even third owner; storage once the product has outlived its usefulness; and end-of-life management, when products are either collected for recycle or re-use, or disposal if the device or its parts are no longer useful in any way.
Wipe Data from Devices
Sustainable management of electronic devices comes in three forms: preventing waste in the first place, which is superior to any other waste management option, including recycling; recycling if donation for reuse or repair is not a viable option; and getting into the habit of buying new equipment that has been designed with environmentally preferable parts and techniques.
Before recycling any electronics -- especially those that might contain confidential personal or business information -- wipe them clean of data. The best way to get rid of data on a computer is by physically destroying the device’s hard drive. On an old cell phone, first do a factory reset, then wipe all the data from the device.
Many cities have facilities that collect old electronics for recycling year-round, or at least set aside specific days to collect them. A search tool on the Earth911 Web site lets users find locations near them where they can dispose of old batteries from electronic devices. These batteries contain recyclable materials, including zinc, steel and lead. Many chain stores, such as Radio Shack and Home Depot, will also take old batteries.
Apple Wants Your Stuff
Apple is one company that has a homegrown program for recycling its products. Apple Renew lets customers bring older Apple products to Apple stores for recycling or, if they prefer, print pre-paid mailing labels online and send the devices to the company to be recycled.
Owners who send in used iPad 2s, iPhone 4s or Macs from 2007 or later are eligible for gift cards from Apple if the devices they send in are in decent condition. Customers can also bring old iPods to any Apple store and get 10 percent off new iPods.
Many smartphone manufacturers and carriers offer mail-in and in-store recycling options. Samsung and LG let customers mail in their old devices, while carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile offer various recycling programs -- some as simple as dropping off old devices at their physical stores.
Image Credit: Artist's concept / iStock.