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Mace & Crown | December 12, 2017

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E-Waste and How to Deal With It

Audra Reigle
Assistant Technology Editor

When it comes to new gadgets and devices, once that new piece of gear comes out, we tend to throw out our old technology like regular garbage. But tossing out your old electronics can be dangerous, and not just because it might still have your information on it. The technology that makes up the device can be harmful to the environment if recycled improperly. This is called “e-waste.”

E-waste is defined as electronics that have reached the end of their life and “are discarded, donated or given to a recycler,” according to the EPA. It is possible that these electronics could be reused, refurbished or recycled instead of being lumped together with typical trash. In 2009, approximately 25 percent of the 2.37 million tons of discarded electronic waste was collected for recycling.

In the U.S., there are specialized electronic recycling centers where electronics are stripped of their parts. These methods of disassembly are distinct from the kind of shredding and mixing most trash and recyclables experience. If they have precious metals, then they are shipped to a special facility that can safely strip out those precious metals.

Not all countries have these recycling options, and improper recycling of electronics can result in damage to a person’s health or the environment, according to NPR. While the U.S. has recycling centers for electronics, countries in East and Southeast Asia do not. Circuit boards are bathed in acid baths for gold, and cables have their plastic casing burned away for copper. Workers using such methods can lead to “irreversible health effects, including cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished IQs,” according to the EPA. These health risks exist alongside the obviously negative environmental impacts such methods produce.

Unfortunately it seems that such unsafe method will continue, if not increase. United Nations University, a U.N. think tank, released a report that said East and Southeast Asia are dumping enough electronic devices “to increase e-waste production in these regions by 63 percent in 5 years,” according to Popular Science. The think tank tracked the electronic waste production of 12 Asian countries between 2010 and 2015. Hong Kong was the worst, producing approximately 48 pounds of e-waste per person, but the region as a whole produced 22 pounds by 2015. The U.S. produced about 48 pounds of e-waste per inhabitant, according to the United Nations University report.

Locally, you can help reduce the impact of e-waste. There are guidelines for properly discarding your electronics available online at the EPA website once you’re ready to get rid of them. Recycling your used electronics “conserves our natural resources and avoids air and water pollution,” according to the EPA. The EPA provides a list of places where you can recycle your devices, such as retail stores like Best Buy or Staples.

ODU also offers its own electronics recycling, for both home and university electronics, according to ODU’s Electronics Recycling website. Those interested in recycling their electronics through ODU are asked to bring the items to 861 W. 45th St. Regardless of where you decide to take your electronics for recycling, it is advised to remove all personal information from them first.

The EPA recommends trying to repair your electronics prior to recycling them. The Monarch Techstore, located in the University Village Bookstore, offers computer repairs. Off campus options include Cell Phone Repair in Norfolk at 5802 E. Virginia Beach Blvd. and TechFix in Norfolk on 954 W. 21st St.