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Recycling Electronics and Office Waste
Sarah Rich, 19 Apr 06

cell_pile.jpg If you have post-holiday depression (a bit too much marshmallow peeps and Manischewitz?), cheer up! This Saturday is Earth Day. And while we could be plenty cynical about the need for more than one of these every 365 days, it's a good time to raise some eco-consciousness and churn out a vast array of "simple tips" for living more sustainably. We've recently been pointed toward two such easy approaches to making a gentle impact on the Earth: one for cell phones and one for print cartridges., a project of Earthworks, is running a recycling campaign as part of the Earth Day spirit, encouraging consumers to be conscious of how they dispose of their electronics. They've also just issued a report card, which gives a poor rating on the performance of the major U.S. wireless companies and proposes some solutions for dealing with the massive quantities of toxic waste created through the dumping of mobile devices (of which only 2% are currently recycled).

Cartridge World, a chain you may have seen, also has efforts under way to reduce the disposal of empty printer ink cartridges. Their remanufacturing service offers to refill your inkjet or laser cartridges with "top quality brand-specific inks and toners." According to their recent press release:

- It takes nearly a gallon (3-1/2 quarts) of oil to produce a new laser printer cartridge, and 2-1/2 ounces of oil to manufacture each new inkjet cartridge.
-In the United States, printer cartridges are thrown away at a rate of eight per second and this is expected to increase by 12% annually.
- The total weight of cartridges thrown away each year in this country is equivalent to 67,612 Ford Explorers or 112,463 Volkswagen Beetles.
- Every reused cartridge saves nearly 3.5 pounds of solid waste from being deposited into landfills.

What's particularly nice about both of these initiatives is that the organizations and companies behind them are offering actual services which allow consumers to engage in a concrete manner. Many companies are now working towards designing with end-of-life scenarios in mind, but creating actionable solutions at the consumer end matters, while we wait for manufacturers to revise the design and lifecycle plans of their products.

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This is good. A few days ago I watched a shocking reportage about a horrible scandal: one hundred thousand Chinese people work day in day out to "recycle" electronics coming from the West. Amidst these chemicals, they risk their lives. The blood of the children who play on these chemical dirt piles is completely poisoned. Cancers are incredibly high.
The U.S. dumps 70% of its electronics waste in China, where these poor people work and die like real 21st century slaves. Americans must urgently learn about this horrible situation.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 20 Apr 06

For my job I've done alot of recycling on electronic waste disposal and Lorenzo is correct in that most e-waste from the states gets shipped to China (and India) to be disposed of by small recyclers working without even the most basic safety gear. Greenpeace did an indepth report on this issue last summer. Check it out here.

However, in addition to the program mentioned in the post, there are other ways out to ensure your electronic waste is properly recycled. A great resource is the Ebay Rethink Initiative.

Posted by: Cat on 20 Apr 06

Would totally appreciate hearing from anybody about as many as municipal computer recycling programs as possible. I am a member of my local council and am looking to propose something for our community.

Posted by: Arjun Singh on 21 Apr 06

Um ..the US doesn't "dump" it's electronics on China. China buys it. I know about this industry. China BUYS the used equipment to recycle and build and/or modify electronics it sells back the world. It's not the US's problem because the Chinese aren't the most ethical in there practices.

China is one of the biggest polluters in the world. They could care less how their actions affect the rest of the world. We, and others, can only put pressure and/or guide China on how to treat its workers.

Posted by: A. R. Travis on 8 May 06



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