The E-Waste Challenge

Electronic devices, such as computers, MP3 players, televisions and cell phones, have become everyday items that everyone demands, and often replaces regularly. According to Pew Research Center, 91% of American adults own a cell phone, and 55% own a smartphone. Many people don’t know want to do with old or unwanted electronic devices, leaving them to the trash or landfills. According to the EPA, e-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America and less than 20 percent of unwanted cell phones are recycled each year. The e-waste challenge is to extend device usage to end-of-life, safely mine existing devices for valuable materials, and design new devices that can be easily recycled and using reclaimed materials where possible.

ecoATM was founded to help address this challenge. ecoATM leverages technology to develop a safe and secure solution to help increase the recycling rate for electronic devices by offering convenience and an immediate financial incentive for people to responsibly recycle used electronics. We have high environmental standards and have strong partnerships with leading organizations to further strive for change and advance solutions to the e-waste challenge.

Risks of Improper Electronics Disposal

Don’t Trash It, Cash It! With less than 20 percent of electronics being safely recycled, it means the majority are dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators. Electronics contain a variety of materials than can pose risks to human health and our environment. In addition to heavy metals such as lead and mercury, there are quantities of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and gobs of polyvinyl chloride. Prolonged or high levels of exposure to these chemicals can hurt the environment or cause serious, long lasting effects on the body.

Envision these examples:

  • eWasteguide.info cites various hazardous materials found in e-waste, such as halogenated compounds: When burned at low temperature, the brominated flame retardants used in circuit boards and casings create additional toxins, including halogenated dioxins and furans—some of the most toxic substances known to cause cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption and numerous other health problems.
  • Heavy metals released by incineration can accumulate in the food chain (especially in fish) due to the increase of metals from crops and a contaminated food chain
  • A recent study from toxics link reported soil and water contamination in two regions in delhi, india, as a result of improper recycling activities.

For cell phones specifically:

  • A mobile phone can contain over 40 elements including heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Metals represent about 23% of the weight of the phone with the remaining 77% being plastics and ceramic materials (United Nations Environment Programme 2009).
  • A ifixit.org and HealthyStuff.org study looked at 36 phones and ranked in three ways: by chemical (for each of 12 commonly found hazardous chemicals, such as bromine, mercury, and lead), by component (case, screen, solder, circuit board, etc.), and overall. by overall ranking, six of the 36 phones are of “low concern” (including the iphone 5, the motorola citrus, and the samsung captivate). twenty-four of the phones are of “medium concern” (including the samsung eternity, the motorola droid x, and the blackberry curve 8530). the remaining six phones are of “high concern” (including the nokia n95 and iphone 2g).

Mining Valuable Materials through Recycling

According to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, rare and precious metal “deposits” found in old electronics are 40 to 50 times richer than those in newly mined ores. Not only that, many electronic parts can be repurposed and used to make entirely different products. Recovering materials also results in significantly less energy use than mining and processing virgin materials.

Efforts are underway by device manufacturers not only to reduce the toxicity of components but also to design devices so that their components can be more easily reused or recycled. In the meantime, the need to ensure the millions of existing, unwanted devices can be responsibly recycled remains.


Importance of Recycling Standards

There is no guarantee that the e-waste will be processed responsibly once it has passed downstream. Tracing what happens to it after it has been trucked to a processing center is not the easiest undertaking. In the absence of federal legislation in the U.S., recyclers are turning to voluntary standards are E-Stewards and Responsible Recycling Practices (R2). ecoATM is R2 certified and our downstream buyers either adhere to R2 standards or are R2 certified themselves. Our certification is a critical part of how we ensure we are living our mission - for our partners, our consumers, and our environment.

Read more about ecoATM’s environmental approach & impact.

Now we challenge you to help be a part of the solution. You can make an impact when you recycle used cell phones, tablets and mp3 players responsibly at one of our kiosks. Share some of our popular guides and resources from our blog below:

Americans & The Modern Day Recycling Dilemma
E-waste! The Ongoing Challenge Close to our Hearts