Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Excuse the e-waste

Become an informed e-Cycler in four simple steps.

We have e-mail, e-government, eBay. Stick and e- in front of any word and it can become new do-com slang, referring to the expanding terminology for all things tech. So add this to the list: e-Cycling. Environmentalists and techies alike define e-Cycling as the same old "reduce, reuse, recycle" catch phrase, but for electronics. Got e-waste? E-Cycle it.

There are very few downsides to e-Cycling. Recycling electronics will reduce greenhouse gases, the equivalent of taking more than 30,000 cars off the road each year in the United States, according to the Environment Protection Agency. It also may create space in your home office or attic. And you can pay it forward with programs that take donated equipment and give it to low-income families, nonprofits and schools.
Consider if you really use the 10-year-old desktop computer gathering dust in the spare bedroom. Or did you toss your old cell phone into a desk drawer instead of giving it back to the phone company? About two in 10 comsumers have an unused phone or computer, and that same number was estimated to have thrown the gadgets into the trash, according to a 2006 survey by consumer reports. With a few pointers, e-Cycling can be simple and rewarding.

Step 1: Chase the Arrows
The three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle- should be considered in that order. Recycling is the last alternative. Scrutinize your e-consumption and see if you can reduce the number of products that contain hazardous materials. Then move on to reuse. Gauge whether purchasing a new computer or printer is necessary or if the equipment can be updated instead. Then, if reducing and reusing your electronics aren't possible, recycling comes in.

Step 2: Directions, Please
The dumpster is not a good place to start. E-waste needs to be discarded differently than other trash, or it will end up clogging landfills and releasing mercury, lead and other toxic substances into the air and water. So know before you go.
About 90 percent of a computer's contents can be recycled, according to GreenerChoices.org, a nonprofit that urges consumers to go green. Check out these e-Cycling companies, whose Web sites offer drop-off locations.
  • For local listings, go to eiae.org
  • for an eco-event calendar and directory called "Act Locally," go to Earth911.com
  • For an energy calculator, go to mygreenelectronics.org
  • for information about rechargeable batteries and cell phones, go to rbrc.org

Also, most electronics retailers collect e'waste in specially placed drop-off boxes. Some even provide prepaid mailing labels so you can ship a computer or tv from home, free. And a few cell phone retailers will credit your account if you donate a functioning cell phone.

Step 3: Ask Questions

Once you pick a place, make sure your e-waste is properly disposed. Consider asking these questions:

  • How do th ey destroy personal data that may still be on a cell phone or computer?
  • Are they a full-service recycler? most service providers are not; they take in products but send them to another location to fully process your waste. Ask.
  • Have they violated any major environmental codes?
  • What is their rate of recycled-versus-disposed material? the electronics Industry Alliance suggests choosing a company that recycles at least 90 percent of the materials it collects, which leaves very little e-waste.

Step 4: Be Proactive

the hardest part may be loading up a bulky applianace and taking it in. Here's some incentive: Student groups like Silicon Valley's StRUT program (students recycling Used Technology) have placed nearly 5,000 free computers in schools. In one month alone, computers were donated to a senior citizens' housing complex in Tennessee, families received free computers in Vermont and inmates in Ohio are using the processors for GED programs- the fruits of just one nonprofit, The National Cristina Foundation.

Businesses are begging for your old stuff. Think green, and consider a new place for your e-waste.

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