Even When You Have a Choice, Recycling E-Waste Beats Dumping It


Early in the month, I wrote about e-waste recycling and pointed to some tips for choosing a vendor to lead your corporate recycling program. States such as California, Washington, and a few others make it illegal to do anything but recycle electronic waste. But what happens to electronic waste in states where recycling is not required? Consumers have a choice: Recycle the old equipment or toss it in the local landfill.


If they choose the former, they can be assured the hazardous materials used to manufacture that equipment will be handled in the most appropriate way possible. If they choose the latter, there is no such guarantee. A recent feature in The Miami Herald outlines what happens after old televisions are dumped rather than recycled in Anchorage, Alaska. Writer George Bryson says:

When they're thrown in a landfill, TV tubes invariably break apart and the four to eight pounds of lead that lines their backsides tends to get dissolved by snowmelt and rainwater....Then the lead in the solution enters the city sewage stream, blending with wastewater from household toilets and sinks as it begins its journey to the Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility - on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet. It's no secret that Anchorage pipes its sewage, which undergoes only primary treatment, into the ocean.


Granted, the city does so with special dispensation from the Environmental Protection Agency, but only because the treated water is "well within" pollution limits. And eventually, officials say, about 99 percent of the lead ends up in the landfill again. And even the best landfills leak.


Though this story focuses on televisions -- probably because of the impending switch to digital television -- dumping computers and other electronic equipment would no doubt result in similar outcomes. The point is, it's almost always better to recycle than to dump. In the next few days, I hope to speak to representatives from different recycling specialists about how companies can accomplish that objective most efficiently.