Obsolete electronics get a second life with eCycling
Consider this: Americans own nearly 3 billion electronic products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That's about 24 electronic products per household.1
For every new cell phone, MP3 player, video game system, television, etc. that comes along, another becomes obsolete. In fact, every year U.S. consumers discard 2.25 million tons of electronics. Of those, only 18 percent (about 414,000 tons) are properly recycled. The rest end up in landfills where they account for about 2 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, EPA estimates.
"There's really a need to educate consumers about the importance of properly recycling electronics and provide them with easy ways to recycle their obsolete products," said Don Argo, Pella Corporation's recycling champion. "That's why Pella began sponsoring annual eCycling events to help people safely recycle and improve the environment in the process."
eCycle for Earth Day
Pella Corporation sponsors annual community electronic recycling, or eCycling, events to encourage employees and local residents to safely recycle obsolete electronics. The event coincides with Earth Day each April and has expanded to include five communities in Iowa and Illinois where Pella® Window and Door manufacturing plants are located.
In 2011, more than 630 homes participated in eCycling events — bringing nearly 2,400 items to be recycled. Televisions were the most popular item to recycle, following by personal computers and computer monitors.
Since the first eCycling event in 2005 in Pella, Iowa, more than 310,296 pounds (or 155.2 tons) of electronics have been diverted from landfills and safely recycled. Pella teams up with area businesses to offer the free event to local residents. Donations are collected for environmental awareness programs in each community.
New life for old electronics
Almost all the materials used to manufacture electronic products – including metals, plastics and rechargeable batteries – can be recovered to make new products, according to EPA's eCycling site.
For instance, a cell phone can contain different metals, ranging from gold, silver and platinum to copper and zinc. These recovered metals can be used by other industries, like jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive and art foundries.
The plastics recovered from cell phones can be recycled into plastic components for new electronic devices or other plastic products like garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers and replacement automotive parts.
Pella Corp reduces waste, recycles
The annual eCycling event is an extension of a successful electronic recycling program established by Pella Corporation in 2000.
Since 1925, the company's goal has been to responsibly use its manufacturing resources, including wood, vinyl, fiberglass, glass, various kinds of metals and even sawdust.
Pella customized its recycling program to make it easier for team members to segregate recyclable materials – adding easily accessible recycling bins at key stages of the assembly line. Now byproducts and scrap materials are recycled by vendors into materials like pet bedding, reflective coating for highways and even archery targets.
Reuse and recycle tips
When you retire your computer, cell phone, MP3 player or other electronics, consider donating them to a new user. This not only extends the life of the electronic, but also maximizes the energy and resources that went into making it. Plus, you'll benefit from the satisfaction of giving an electronic item to a school, nonprofit organization or family that might not otherwise be able to afford it.
Before donating or recycling your electronics, the EPA advises you to:
- Copy and transfer needed files or information
- Remove any personal information from the device or request that the receiving organization remove the data
- Check with the receiving organization to make sure they will accept your donation. Some organizations have repair capabilities, but others only accept fully-functioning items.
- Locate and attach the owner's manual and any power cords and accessories that might be useful to the new owner.
Find a recycling program near you
There are many websites that help locate eCycling and other recycling programs in your local area, check out:
Many manufacturers and retailers provide opportunities to donate or recycle electronics. The EPA's Plug-In To eCycling Partners website provides program information from leading electronics retailers.
eCycling quick facts
- In 2007, the EPA reports that U.S. consumers recycled about 414,000 tons of electronics. Recycling that amount prevented the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 178,000 cars.
- Recycling one million desktop computers prevents the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of 16,000 passenger cars, according to the EPA.
- Recycling one million laptop computers saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year, according to the EPA.
- By recycling 100 million cell phones, approximately 7,500 pounds of gold could be recovered. Recovering that gold, instead of mining it from the earth, would prevent 12 billion pounds of loose soil, sand and rock from having to be moved, mined and processed, the EPA reports.
1Consumer Electronics Association. Market Research Report: Trends in CE Reuse, Recycle and Removal. April 2008.
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