What is E-Waste and E-Recycling?
E-waste is a term that means unwanted electronic materials such as obsolete computers and cell phones. E-recycling is an abbreviation for electronics recycling.
At the borough’s Central Recycling Facility they accept most items that plug in or run on batteries, including computers, monitors, printers, scanners, copy machines, ink/toner cartridges, household batteries, TVs, VCR/DVD players, stereos, microwaves, and other small kitchen appliances.
A few things they cannot accept include: vacuum cleaners, smoke alarms, fluorescent light bulbs, exit signs, VHS/cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, and floppy discs.
How big is the E-Waste problem?
E-waste is the fastest growing component in our waste stream. In 2012 e-waste accounted for one to two percent of the solid waste stream1. According to the EPA, 3.4 million tons of e-waste were generated in the U.S. in 2012; only 1 million tons of this e-waste was recycled.2 This means that roughly 2/3 of our e-waste – 2.4 million tons – ended up in our landfills or incinerators in a single year.
Technology improvements bring new electronic products to the market every day. This means we are constantly upgrading and replacing our obsolete equipment, as the industry encourages us to replace functioning devices with newer, faster, shinier upgrades. In addition, many of our modern electronics are “designed for the dump” – meaning it is often cheaper and easier to replace a broken device than to get it fixed. Click here to watch a short video from the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.
Why can’t I just put my E-Waste in the trash?
The problem is not simply the sheer mass of these discarded devices. Electronic products contain toxic materials, and improper disposal may lead to water and air pollution. “A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor can contains between four and eight pounds of lead alone. Big screen tube TVs contain even more than that. Flat panel TVs and monitors contain less lead, but many use mercury lamps.” 3 Other toxic substances found in electronic devices include cadmium, copper, lithium, brominated flame-retardants, and phosphorus. “About 70% of the heavy metals (mercury and cadmium) in US landfills come from electronic waste. Consumer electronics make up 40% of the lead in landfills.” 4 Fairbanks has a modern, lined landfill that is used for regular waste. The leachate, or water that extracts chemicals from the soil, generated in the landfill is collected, tested, and if it passes disposal requirements, it is then pumped to the local waste water plant for disposal.5 Your groundwater is protected, but e-waste can be better disposed of by recycling it through our Electronics Recycling program.
Information security may also be an issue. From the time electronics are placed in dumpsters at transfer sites they are out of your hands. Industrious “dumpster divers” may obtain and repurpose your electronics before they are taken to the landfill. Any data you may have had on your electronic devices may then be accessed by strangers. We offer hard drive destruction which renders hard drives practically unusable.
Throwing away our old electronics also means the loss of valuable minerals and electronic components that could be mined for reuse, such as gold, copper, metal, and plastic. “One metric ton (t) of electronic scrap from personal computers (PC’s) contains more gold than that recovered from 17 t of gold ore.” 6 Rather than simply throwing away these valuable resources, it makes sense to recycle the devices and reuse as many of these materials possible.
In short, recycling our old electronics reduces our demand for raw materials and energy, reduces the burden on landfills, and reduces the amount of hazardous materials entering our environment.
What happens to my electronics after I turn them in for recycling?
A team of dedicated volunteers carefully breaks down, sorts, and packages the electronics received for recycling, in order to prepare them for reuse or shipment to our electronics recycler, Total Reclaim, Inc (TRI). We follow the packaging guidelines set by TRI to ensure that the materials reach their Anchorage warehouse safely. These guidelines include removing all cables and wires; sorting materials by type of item (computers, monitors, TVs, cables/wires, etc.); stacking and wrapping large items securely on pallets; sorting, preparing, and packaging batteries by type for safe transportation. Our volunteers also remove and break down all extraneous paper and plastic packaging for recycling at the borough’s recycling facility. A lot of work is involved in this process and we keep our volunteers very busy.
The prepared electronics are then stored at our warehouse until we have collected enough material to fill a 40-foot trailer. Once we have produced approximately 20 completed pallets, they are loaded onto a trailer donated by our program partner – Air Land Transport – and shipped to the TRI facility in Anchorage. From there, TRI is responsible for shipping the electronics to their final destination – the main TRI recycling plant in Seattle, Washington. Once the materials reach Seattle, some of the items collected (e.g. newer computers) may be refurbished and offered as used electronics. The rest of the items are broken down into their component materials and prepared for reuse on the commodities markets. The recycling process separates CRTs and other computer equipment into component parts – such as leaded glass, precious metals, non-precious metals, and plastics – and makes these materials available to manufacturers. TRI researches all of their downstream vendors to ensure they are environmentally responsible. Our goal is to promote recycling and proper disposal of unwanted electronic equipment in ways that protect the health and well-being of the communities where electronics are produced, de-manufactured, or discarded.
Is there a fee to recycle my electronics?
Green Star of Interior Alaska is now the electronics recycling contractor for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Help support Green Star’s recycling mission by taking your unused or broken electronics to the Central Recycling Facility where they will be sorted and sent to us. This service is provided free of charge by the Fairbanks North Star Borough to residents. A small fee will be charged for electronics received from outside the Borough.
|Computer Monitor - CRT||$18|
|Computer Monitor - LCD||$15|
|TV – up to 13”||$10|
|TV – up to 19”||$15|
|TV – 20-27”||$25|
|TV – up to 36"||$35|
|TV – over 36”||$50|
|Batteries - Alkaline||$1.50/lb|
|Batteries - NiCAD-NIMH||$1.50/lb|
|Batteries - Lithium Ion||$2.00/lb|
|Batteries - Lithium||$5.00/lb|
|Batteries - Lead Acid||Free|
|Batteries - Mixed||$3.50/lb|
Electronics are complex items made of many different materials mixed together. Responsibly recycling these items is labor-intensive and requires sophisticated equipment in order to break them down into their component raw materials.
Paying for your electronics to go to a responsible company such as Total Reclaim Inc. means the borough is supporting the advanced technology, highly trained workers, and considerable effort required to properly reclaim valuable materials without sending them overseas and appropriately disposing of toxic materials.
As a nonprofit organization, GSIA is able to recruit volunteers and obtain donations from local businesses, as well as the funding from the FNSB, which allows us to offset the costs of transportation and additional overhead required to support this program.
What are the hidden dangers of e-waste?
Caution must be taken to select electronics recyclers who can certify that their practices ensure worker safety and the prevention of toxic releases to the environment. It is estimated that 70-80% of the e-waste brought in for recycling is actually exported to developing countries.7 In these places, labor costs are lower and environmental regulations may be lax or not enforced, often resulting in major pollution and health problems in these communities. E-waste that is shipped overseas may be improperly burned, soaked in acid baths, dumped into rivers, or piled into mountains for scrap recovery. These practices risk the release of toxic elements into the surrounding air, water, and land – thereby risking significant negative impact to the environment and health of workers and residents alike.8 Green Star of Interior Alaska selected Total Reclaim, Inc. (TRI) as our electronics recycler, in order to assure that all e-waste we collect is processed and recycled according to safe and responsible procedures. TRI researches all of their downstream vendors to ensure they are environmentally responsible; the company holds an ISO:14001 certification for its facilities. Visit the Basel Action Network website for more information about certified e-recyclers.
Can I find a new home for my unwanted but still functional electronics?
There are currently a few local options where your used electronic devices can find a new home where it can continue its useful life:
- Green Star of Interior Alaska may accept your new, modern, and collectible/vintage electronics & computers to be refurbished/resold as a fundraiser with your consent. Broken/damaged smart phones, tablets, and laptops with hard drives removed may be sold on eBay for repair/parts.
- We may also donate your electronics to the Fairbanks Children’s Museum for their take apart station where kids have the opportunity to take items apart and learn how things work. Learn more about our partnership with the Fairbanks Children’s Museum.
- Green Star may also, after wiping or removing the hard drives, provide computers to Computerwerks to be refurbished and resold through our partnership, that gives new life to old items and provides an affordable place to buy used computers in Fairbanks.
What about manufacturers that take back their products for recycling?
If you decide to buy new equipment, ask the equipment manufacturer or retailer about reuse and recycling options. Visit the list on the Electronics TakeBack Coalition website for a summary of the available manufacturer takeback programs. Note that these takeback programs may not necessarily use certified e-Stewards companies for their recycling procedures; be sure to thoroughly research any company you select for recycling – including your equipment manufacturers.
Are there laws regarding the disposal of E-Waste?
Currently, 25 states have passed some kind of legislation regulating disposal of electronics waste; Alaska does not have any laws in place regarding e-waste. Most of the existing laws use the Producer Responsibility approach, which means that the electronics manufacturers are responsible for the recycling costs. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition provides extensive information about the current and proposed state legislation efforts.
How can I get more involved in E-Recycling?
We have many volunteer opportunities that help support our Electronics Recycling Program including:
- Electronics Recycling Depot Collections
We need the help of many volunteers every month to staff our electronics recycling weekend. Volunteer tasks include: acting as a cashier, unloading electronics from the borough’s totes, sorting and packaging electronics on pallets, dismantling and destroying computer hard drives and sorting and preparing batteries for transport.
- Information Booths
We always need help at special events such as the Tanana Valley State Fair, to sit at the GSIA booth and educate others about the importance of e-waste recycling and the local opportunities for responsible recycling. Through these and other outreach activities, GSIA is educating our communities on the hazards of e-waste, encouraging reuse and recycling of electronics, and promoting green purchasing habits.
- Education & Outreach
We can train you to give educational presentations about e-waste for middle and high school classrooms. We are currently working on expanding our educational programs, and are actively recruiting educators, retired teachers, and other interested volunteers to assist with these efforts.
4Widmer, R., H. Oswald-Krapf, et al. (2005). “Global perspectives on e-waste.” Environmental Impact Assessment Review 25(5): 436-458.