As electronics have become more affordable than ever, it has become common for Americans to purchase, consume and replace a wide variety of equipment that is either outdated or no longer has a purpose. More often than not, these electronics cannot be sold or repurposed, leading many families and businesses to simply throw out old equipment.
Unfortunately, despite the sleek, pristine packaging they arrive in, most of these electronics contain hazardous materials. Devices such as TVs or computer monitors, mice and keyboards, printers, electric thermostats, voice assistants or mobile phones may contain lead, mercury and polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs) that can contaminate the environment if they end up in a landfill or are not recycled properly.
Today, the United States is No. 1 worldwide in terms of e-waste produced annually. Americans throw around 9.4 million tons of electronics every year. Globally, only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled.
Luckily, e-recycling programs have come along to process and contain hazardous material from electronics. These programs reprocess and reuse materials in an environmentally-responsible manner.
“E-waste” is one of the quickest growing segments of our nation’s waste stream. It includes all broken, unusable or outdated electronic devices, components and materials and includes materials that can be recycled, resold salvaged.
As our technology growth rate continues to accelerate exponentially, the importance of recycling old materials grows with it. Currently, e-waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills but equals 70% of overall toxic waste, impacts from which can be found in water, soil and air pollution.
The threat comes from exposure during recycling and disposal efforts. The harmful components found in electronics can leak into the ground as they are packed into landfills. They can also be released when the items are incinerated, a common method for disposal.
According to researchers, much of the perception that electronics don’t contain harmful waste products comes from their sleek packaging. However, if these items aren’t handled correctly they can cause organ damage, neurological damage, and severe illness not only in the workers who handle them directly but also within the communities of the developing countries where they are shipped.
How Do I Dispose of My Hazardous Waste (“e-cycling”)?
In 2012, Illinois passed the Electronics Products Recycling and Reuse Act, mandating that all electronics (“e-waste”) must be disposed of in a proper manner. Improper disposal of electronics will result in a $500 fine for businesses, a $25 fine for a first offense of a residential consumer and $50 fine for every subsequent offense.
This act also states that no consumer can be charged a fee when they bring in their e-waste to a collection facility, unless they use a curbside pickup service or home pickup service, for which a collection fee is permitted.
The City of Chicago operates a permanent Household Chemical and Computer Recycling Facility where you can drop off household chemicals and unwanted computers, computer peripherals and cell and cordless phones for reuse and recycling. The facility location and hours are:
- 1150 N. Branch Street
- Tuesdays (7:00 am to 12:00 pm)
- Thursdays (2:00 pm to 7:00 pm)
- First Saturday of every month (8:00 am to 3:00 pm)
Additionally, the City of Chicago Department of Environment holds electronic recycling and household chemical collection events in different neighborhood around the city. Special neighborhood collection days give you additional opportunities to drop off items, including old lawnmowers and gas cans. If you’re interested in taking a more proactive role in improving Chicago’s recycling program, you can register to become a recycling block captain!
Small efforts like e-recycling can have a major impact for people around the world and help create safer air and water for future generations. To learn how Switchfast helps our clients with e-recycling, contact us for more information.