It’s pretty easy to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about old electronics, especially because we live in an age preoccupied with constant updates and upgrades. Sleeker, faster models of our favorite electronics emerge each month (an average of 16 new types of cell phones come on the market each month) — and for many, it can be hard to be left in the 20th century dark ages with technological gadgets that don’t perform the newest and slickest tricks. But in a flurry to buy new electronic items, we often forget about what happens to the old ones. We embrace these new gadgets, say out with the old and in with the new, but in the process we often fail to give proper attention to all the old items we leave behind.
Santa Clara University Recycling Intern Kaelin Holland works at Santa Clara University to promote awareness about this issue — and to encourage people to recycle the items they no longer have use for, including electronics. In her post below, she discusses the global e-waste epidemic and the moral problems it presents, and then she outlines some ways to make sure we stop it. She also identifies the best places in Santa Clara and beyond to recycle all of your old electronics. Make sure to check it out the next time you’re in the market for an upgrade.
Kaelin Holland is a Recycling Intern at Santa Clara University. She is studying English and Environmental Science and Santa Clara. For questions on recycling at Santa Clara or on other Sustainability topics, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Electronic Recycling at Santa Clara University
Saving up for that new iPad? Counting down the days to get a new laptop? Or maybe your cell phone took a voluntary swim in a puddle or toilet and you’re left with no choice but to purchase a new one. All these scenarios are understandable; however, what will you do with your old item? Unless you bring it to a proper recycling system, it could end up with all other E-waste.
E-Waste is a broad umbrella category that covers the ever-growing universal amount of discarded electronic items such as computers, cell phones, printers, hair dryers, and basically anything that uses an electric cord or battery. These items differ from the ordinary landfill waste because of the amount of toxic metals they contain that produce even more environmental hazards than landfill waste. Some of these metals include arsenic, lead, and mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Frequent exposure to these chemicals can cause severe health issues such as cancer, respiratory illness, and reproductive problems. A Greenpeace study argued that E-waste is currently one of the ‘fastest growing types of hazardous waste’ on the planet. The amounts of E-waste are only expected to rise in the future, given the continual increase of new technologies and shorter product lifespans. As companies continue to race with each other to see how can develop the more advanced, ‘gotta have it’ product first, more and more electronics will become unnecessarily obsolete.
The problem with electronic waste lies not only in the high level of toxicity of these products, but the way in which they are disposed. Greenpeace states that 20-50 million tonnes of E-Waste are generated each year. While this is a gigantic amount to consider, what is left uncounted is a ‘hidden flow’ of E-waste that is exported to developing nations such as China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Greenpeace suggests that in India, the hidden flows could potentially count for 99% of reported E-waste, or 143,000 tonnes. Due to companies mislabeling their exports as ‘donations’ or ‘scrap’, it is impossible to quantify just exactly how much waste is being illegally exported and dumped on these countries.
When impoverished countries receive this waste, they are only equipped with rudimentary recycling technologies to either simply extract valuable raw material or reuse certain components. Those who work in the scrap yards breaking apart and retrieving these items aren’t adequately covered with protective clothing gear or face masks when the chemicals are smelted or released into the air, so their health is immediately at risk. In addition to posing severe health risks to those in the immediate vicinity, the chemicals also pervade the air, soil, and water in the surrounding areas, causing incredible environmental degradation in these communities.
Considering the vast amount of human, air, water, soil, and biota pollution that this hazardous and toxic waste creates, an ethical issue is at hand. It is easy for us in developed countries like America and Europe to develop an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality when it comes to all types of our waste. But unless it is properly recycled, the waste never disappears; it just winds up in a landfill or on the other side of a planet that is still ours. It is important to keep in mind that environmental degradation that is unaccounted for will snowball into all sorts of problems once the ecosystems are destabilized; gradually contaminated health, food, and water supplies are just as harmful as sudden natural disasters or disease epidemics that we would otherwise feel a moral jolt to assist.
Furthermore, in such a highly globalized society that we live in today, it is extremely important to understand the interconnectedness of activities that take place on this earth. For instance, when E-waste chemicals infiltrate every ecological component of regions in China, they will eventually make their way into whatever we import back from them, be it food or manufactured items. When our air, food, water supply, and other necessities for life come directly from our environment, it is all of our responsibilities to think critically about the impacts we are making on the environment each time we toss away an item that could otherwise be reused or recycled. Finally, human interests aside, the pollution that E-waste causes affects not only humans but also all other organisms in those areas. If we feel that we have a moral and ethic responsibility to engage in life sustaining activities for every living thing on this earth, then E-waste pollution and other environmental issues should force us to reflect upon the ways in which we impact our global community.
Santa Clara University’s Sustainability Program works to foster the three C’s: Competence, Conscience, and Compassion. We should develop the competence to learn about these issues and deal with them in an appropriate manner, the conscience to take into account the impact that our daily lifestyles have on the global environment, and the compassion to reach out to those communities currently dealing with the negative effects of our lifestyle. If you would like to learn more about the current effects of E-waste, Santa Clara University offers a number of ways to get more involved. We recommend taking an environmental class here on campus; intro Environmental Studies classes, “The Joy of Garbage”, and “Environmental Technology” especially go into detail about different waste diversion technologies. Also, student organizations such as Green Club and B LEJIT work to increase environmental awareness and environmental justice issues on campus. Finally, you can watch The Story of Stuff online to see the ways in which the extraction, production, and circulation of ‘stuff’ affects our environment and natural resources.
For us individuals, what can we do to minimize the amount of E-waste we generate? E-waste minimization can take place in all steps of the product life cycle; first, we can choose our electronics consciously. Buying electronics that are built to have a lower environmental impact (such as the newer MacBooks that not only eliminated the main toxic culprits but also used less material overall) will aid in this reduction. Also, despite the excitement that comes out over a new or updated product, is it really worth it to get new electronics if the ones you already have work just fine? And finally, it also goes without saying if your electronics have seen better days and those days are over, they should be taken to a proper recycler. Fortunately for us on campus, our Facilities department will happily accept all E-waste and universal waste (such as batteries, innk cartiges, compact flourescent light bulbes, and cell phones). If you’re a student living in one of the residence halls, you can leave your large E-Waste under the sign where you take your trash and recyclables, and small items like cell phones, batteries, ink cartridges, and CFL’s can be dropped off at the residence hall service desks.
While it is exciting to develop and experience new technologies, we have an ethical responsibility to minimize hazardous waste production throughout the entire life cycle of an item, from its production to its disposal. Simply being aware of your consumption of electronic goods and taking your items to a proper recycler will help immensely against the illegal dumping of E-Waste to other countries that are forced to sacrifice their health and their environment to dispose of it.
Places to Recycle Your E-Waste
What Stores Accept E-Recycling?
Most large electronics corporations will be happy to responsibly recycle your items. Here are some of the closest stores near Santa Clara:
-Staples will accept cell phones, computer monitors, desktops, laptops, printers, fax machines, electronics, ink cartridges, office machines, toner cartridges, and batteries. Some of the larger brands may require a $10 fee. The closest address to SCU is: 1351 Coleman Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95050. Phone number: (408) 588-9650
-Best Buy will accept cell phones, compact disks, computers, MP3 players, batteries, telephones, game consoles, small appliances, and certain types of televisions. The closest address to SCU is: 3090 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128, Phone number: (408) 241-6040
-Goodwill & Salvation Army locations accept computers and other electronics like radios and stereos. Goodwill Donation Station: Stevens Creek & Winchester, San Jose, CA 95121, Phone number: (408) 998-5774. Salvation Army Thrift Store, 702 West Taylor Street, San Jose, CA 95131, Phone number: (408) 943-9943
-Apple also has a program to recycle old Apple products. Find out more information from their website.
Where to E-Recycle at Santa Clara University?
-Residence Halls: E-Waste (anything with a cord or battery) as well as cell phones, chargers, batteries, ink cartridges, and CFL’s should be brought to the small blue receptacles at the reception desks. For larger items, request a pickup from Facilities by either calling 554-4742 or emailing email@example.com.
Where to E-Recycle outside the University, including Home Pick-Up?
-U.S. Post Office (in Franklin Square) will accept cell phones, electronics, ink cartridges, and toner cartridges. Also, you can donate or sell your cell phone to be reused at Recellular.com.
-ECS Refining will accept cell phones, computer monitors, televisions http://www.ecsrefining.com/
-College Hunks Hauling Junk is a nationwide company that will send two strapping young college men to come to pick up any ‘junk’ you have and they will recycle, reuse, or donate the items properly.
These locations and the items they accept are certainly not exhaustive; there are plenty of more places to recycle your electronics in the area. For more locations, visit Earth911.com. This site provides recycling centers closest to you for not only electronics but other recyclable items as well.
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