While a cell phone is made to last for 5 years or more with proper maintenance, the average user replaces their phone every 14 to 18 months. This means there are over 700 million used cell phones in the US today, with more pumping into the recycling stream every year. With the rapid popularity of smart phones and new models that are sleeker, smarter, and with more features, cell phones have become a big part of the e-waste problem.
Only 50% of a computer is recyclable. The rest is dumped. Non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead, which usually goes straight into a landfill. With an estimated 29.9 million desktops and 12 million laptops discarded in 2007 alone, that adds up to some serious waste.
Each year, the average American household spends $1,200 on new electronics, from phones and cameras to computers and gaming systems. Rather than making a device last as long as possible, most people tend to replace them before they're truly outdated or at the end of their lifespan. Knowing some simple repair tips would make devices last far longer and keep e-waste out of landfills.
Out of the US's 50 states, only 19 have state-wide electronics recycling programs. They are: California, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Connecticut, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Illinois and Michigan. Indiana was the most recent, and 19th state to pass state-wide regulations helping to curb e-waste headed to landfills.
A whopping 1.9 million tons of e-waste headed to landfill in 2007, up from about 1.4 in 2005, according to the EPA. While many organizations work diligently to boost recycling efforts and curb this number, it's still far too large a number, especially considering the toxic substances that leach into the soil and water.
In part lead by the switch to digital, and in part American's drive to buy the latest and greatest, Americans will purchase an estimated 34.5 million new televisions this year alone, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, up from 26.8 sold last year. The problem is that the Electronics Takeback Coalition shows that tv manufacturers are terrible about taking back old sets, which means many will go straight to landfill.
Electronics TakeBack Coalition Grades TV Makers on Recycling
What Happens To E-Waste Generated By The Shift To High Definition Television?
Tell TV Manufacturers to Take Back Your Old Television
e-Stewards, the Basel Action Network, and recyclers who take their trade seriously are all working to make e-waste recycling transparent, accountable, and very responsible. Even Dell has instituted a policy of not exporting e-waste to developing countries. However, that doesn't stop many recyclers from simply packing up shipping containers with electronics and sending them off to dumps where recycling is cheaper, but totally unregulated and a major health threat.
According to Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, about 40% of the lead in landfills is from consumer electronics, thanks to the unregulated disposal of things like computers and television sets. Unfortunately, this lead doesn't stay contained in the landfill, but often gets into the soil, water, and air.
Of the 26.9 million TVs and 205.5 million computer products that were disposed in 2007, only 18% were recycled, according to the EPA. That is a terribly low number. With luck, the increased legislation in many states will help boost that percentage up much higher.
2 tons of gold ore
6 tons of gold ore
14 tons of gold ore
17 tons of gold ore
It takes more than 17 tons of gold ore to produce the same amount of gold that could be salvaged from one ton of scrapped computers. In fact, in 1998, recycling electronic scraps yielded as much gold as 2 million metric tons of gold ore. You can just imagine the wealth of precious metals and useful materials that sit in landfills, waiting for the day when we mine for it there rather than in mountainsides.
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