It’s taken many years, but it would seem that the US business world has finally agreed that throwing old technology straight into the trash is unsafe and bad for the environment. To capitalize on this, an entire cottage industry of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling companies have sprung up over the years as our rate of technology consumption increases. Unfortunately, though they may promise it in their marketing, an investigative study has found that as much as 40% of e-waste processed through these companies is actually illegally and improperly disposed of through shady overseas outfits that buy the e-waste for pennies on the pound, scavenge what precious metals they can, and then dump the rest in toxic landfills. Contrary to popular belief, e-waste recycling is costly to do properly, and not profitable at this current time.
What this means for you:
While you should still feel good for not just throwing your e-waste into the trash, you may want to scrutinize the vendors or organizers of any e-waste events that you use, especially if they promise “secure disposal” of items that may contain data, like old hard drives or mobile devices. If the vendor in question isn’t handling the actual recycling of the materials it collects, it’s possible they are reselling the e-waste to cover their costs (maybe even make a small profit) to another firm that is definitely not “green” in any sense other than profiteering.
There are two types of e-waste certifications recognized by the EPA – “R2” and “eStewards” – both of which are administered by nongovernmental organizations, and despite the certification and oversight, both seem to have bad apples, though eSteward companies are held to stricter standards and appear to cheat less than their R2 or non-certified counterparts. While you can’t be expected to control or direct the morality of these companies or the certification process, your scrutiny and attention to this issue will hopefully lead to less hazardous waste being improperly disposed of in overseas landfills.