So, what to do with that old computer or phone? Electronics comprise a significant and growing number of houseold items. Yet many of them contain toxic materials that can contaminate air and water when dumped in landfills. This includes lead, cadmium, and mercury. Cadmium is generally used to prevent corrosion and poisoning occurs from inhalation. The dangers of lead and mecury are well documented. Both can accumulate over time and lead can cause cognitive deficiency in children. Recycling prevents the release of these chemicals into the enviroment as well as the recovery of valuable metals, such as gold and silver.
In addition to computers and phones, electronic waste also includes houseold appliances, lighting, electric tools, toys, medical devices, and monitoring equipment. All of these contain chemicals that can be detrimental to air and water. Recycling involves two different groups. First there are collectors which sort items and ship them out Second are the actual recyclers which dismantle the items to recover the parts and metals which can be reused.
Charlotte Low, the Operations Manager for Central Vermot Solid Waste, said that one third of all Central Vermont recyclables are electronics. She said the most common toxic materials are freon from refrigerators, which depletes the ozone and lead and cadmium fom televisions, which pollute air and water.
Robin Ingenthron, the CEO of Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, VT and founder of fairtraderecycling.org, said they dismantle the items they receive and the sell the parts. He gave the example of TV repair shops which may need a part for merchandise under warranty but are uable to get it from the manufacturer. Ingenthron said the largest release of toxic material is through mining and he saw the mission of recycling of keeping material in the economy rather than mining new ore. There have been concerns about the overseas trade. Ingenthron responded to these concerns by saying that the international trade helps to encourage investment. He said cell towers would not be built if reusables were not being shipped. The Basel Action Network (BAN) is a watchdog group that tracks electronic devices, and according to their website, a February 2019 study found 6% of computer and computer equipment shipments “very likely” illegal. However, as of this publication, they have not responded to an interview request.
Most of us keep our food in refrigerators, use computers at work, and listen to the radio. However, all of these items contain chemicals that can be detrimental to the enviroment if dumped in landfills. Thus, finding responsible recyclers keeps these chemicals out of the enviroment, can provide parts for other equipment, and reduces mining.