Environmental engineers continuously seek ways to make solid waste disposal more efficient and to maximize new technologies to ease the burden on landfills. While our communities have made major advances in their commitment to recycling, according to the Electronics Takeback Coalition, an organization that promotes responsible recycling electronics waste (e-waste), more e-waste ends up in our landfills and incinerators than is being recycled. The data on e-waste recycling comes from the EPA, which show that the average American household uses about 28 electronic devices, including cell phones, televisions and personal computers.
As of 2013, which is when the latest report from the EPA on sustainable materials management was issued, Americans had disposed of 3.14 million tons of obsolete electronic products in a single year, comprising about one percent of the entire municipal solid waste stream. The EPA also noted the following:
- By recycling one million laptops, we save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year.
- One metric ton of circuit boards can contain as many as 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper that can be mined for a metric ton of ore in the U.S.
What Happens to the Electronic Devices we use?
The EPA describes the following lifecycle stages of electronic products as follows:
- Purchase and use
- End of life management
The first stage – purchase and use – covers both the use by the original purchaser and when the buyer sells or gives the product to another person. The storage cycle refers to how long consumers store the products when they’re finished using them, which affects when the electronic product is ready for end-of-life management. When products are at their end of life, they are managed by one or two methods:
- Collection for recycling, so they can be reused, refurbished or recycled for materials recovery.
- Disposal, primarily in landfills, although combustible components may be harvested and sent to waste-to-energy incinerators.
Toxins Present in E-Waste
According to the National Center for Biological Information:
- Electronic equipment contains hazardous components such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, and brominated flame-retardants.
- Iron, copper, aluminum, gold, and other metals comprise over 60 percent of e-waste, while plastics account for about 30 percent, and the hazardous pollutants comprise only about three percent.
- Of the toxic heavy metals in e-waste, lead is the most widely used. This results in a variety of health hazards due to environmental contamination. Lead enters the biological systems via food, water, air and soil.
For more information about solid waste management technologies and challenges, please contact HSA Golden at +1 407 649 5475. Or tell us about your project at https://hsagolden.com/contact/.
Since 1989, HSA Golden has provided environmental engineering and consulting services to clients all over the world. Our practice areas include solid and hazardous waste management, waste-to-energy, site development engineering, environmental due diligence, and litigation support, among others. From governmental agencies and multinational, publicly traded corporations to smaller, single-office real estate and legal firms, we are proud of not only the relationships we have built, but also of the trust that our clients place in us.