As summer breezes make way for fall’s bright colors, and students trickle back into classrooms, many will be looking to purchase that new laptop or tablet that nowadays is essential for school, work and pleasure. But how sustainable is your computer? What should you look for when choosing a new one, and where will your old laptop go?
Electronic waste, or e-waste, is one of the fastest growing types of waste globally, growing 8.9% annually according to BCC Research. In 2012 alone, consumers around the world bought over 440 million computers and tablets! Since most of us toss our electronics within their average lifespan of 1-3 years, knowing how to deal with e-waste recycling can make a huge difference in your carbon and waste footprints.
In general, laptop computers use much less energy than desktops, but beneath each sleek design most computers are exactly the same, containing a slew of metals and chemicals like lead, arsenic, and mercury that can leach into soil and water resources, endangering the ecosystems we all depend on.
Computers also contain many precious metals, plastics and glass that, when recycled properly, can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by lessening the demand to manufacture and mine for new materials. Saving your old computer or cellphone from the fate of the landfill can make a huge impact — the EPA states that recycling 1 million computers is equal to the electricity costs of 3,657 homes in the United States! With each household owning an average of 24 electronics, and over 3 million people in the US, each one makes a difference.
So, what is the best way to keep your electronics out of landfills? Extend their lives as long as possible. Use your products until the very end, or, if you need the newest gadget, give your electronics a second life by donating them to someone else. When buying a new product, look for minimal packaging and products designed for easy upgrade and disassembly. Ethicalconsumer.org provides a wonderful guide to compare companies and products, and organizations like the Electronics Take Back Coalition and e-stewards.org have a state-by-state directory of certified recycling companies that promise to recycle and refurbish your e-waste in the US.
Before you make a rush for the latest toy, know where your electronics go and come from. By ensuring the safe disposal of electronics and supporting eco-conscious companies you can help to slash the negative impacts of e-waste! To learn more about the social issues of e-waste check out these documentaries, Exporting Harm: The High Tech Trashing of Asia, and Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground.
About the Author: Rachel is a recent graduate of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, and is the RISE Intern for Oroeco. She is excited to pursue a career in environmental sustainability, and is thrilled to promote Oroeco’s vision of saving money and the planet simultaneously!