The following is an op-ed piece by Wes Muir, director of communications for Waste Management. It does not describe the views or opinions of Earth911.
When most of us recycle, we think about how we are helping to protect the health of our environment. We think about reducing our carbon footprint or reducing the need to use more natural resources to create a soda bottle or a ream of paper. You might not realize it, but by properly recycling electronic waste (e-waste) you’re doing more than just protecting our planet.
Take an old computer monitor, for example. On average, just one monitor contains 4 pounds of toxic materials, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. In the past, these materials might have gone to landfills or have been disassembled and burned, posing potential health and environmental threats.
Electronic waste is not only one of the fasting growing commodities in the waste stream, but it is also comes with some of the most challenges because of these toxic materials. According to the 2011 Electronics Recycling Industry Survey, more than 3.5 million tons of used electronics were collected and processed in the U.S. in 2010, a 1.7 million ton increase from 2009.
To meet the demand and challenges of improving how we recycle electronics, new practices and standards have evolved. For example, federal and state laws have been enacted in the U.S. as well as special certifications for e-cycling facilities.
One such certification is R2/RIOS, a combination of two accredited standards shaped in part by the EPA, which determines practices for responsible electronics reuse and recycling and certifies various facilities. At Waste Management, for example, we have been a leader in the development of these laws, regulations and certifications to keep employees, customers and the environment safe.
Recently, all eight WM Recycle America facilities in North America were certified as R2/RIOS Electronics Recyclers, giving WM more R2/RIOS-certified e-cycling facilities than any other company in the U.S. This certification helps WM reach its long-term goal to have electronics recycling locations within 20 miles of95 percent of the U.S. population across all 50 states.
So why are such certifications important? Here are three main reasons:
- Pollution from e-waste has been linked to health problems. A recent study conducted by scientists at Zhejiang University in China revealed that pollution from the processing of e-waste can cause DNA damage, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Toxins from materials in e-waste can be released into the ground, air and water and affect people around the world. Better regulations and more stringent certifications for e-cycling facilities help reduce pollution from e-waste.
- Better e-cycling standards protect industry workers. There are currently more than 30,000 full-time workers in the U.S. who are part of the $5 billion electronic recycling industry. E-cycling standards not only ensure the safety of domestic workers, but also work to make sure that companies adhere to laws for exporting any e-waste.
- Your electronic data is disposed of properly, too. There are thousands of pieces of personal data on old cell phones or computer hard drives that could last forever if they aren’t disposed of properly. In compliance with R2/RIOS Standards, WM and other certified e-cyclers securely destroys all of the information on recycled devices.
As technology evolves and we continue to throw away old electronics to make space for the next hot new gadget, it’s important for both consumers and the waste industry as a whole to practice safe e-cycling.
So, before you discard that old video game console or TV screen, use one of the many tools to find out how and where you can recycle old electronics and make sure that consumers, waste industry workers and the environment are all protected at the same time.