According to the EPA, e-waste (electronic waste) amounted to 2.37 million short tons in 2009. The same year, only 25 percent of e-waste that was ready for end-of-life management was collected for recycling. Hazardous materials, like mercury, lead, and cadmium, contaminate soil and water, and many states require that e-waste is processed and disposed properly.
Many residents have lots of e-waste sitting around. When it’s time to clean or move, residents are not always given recycling options. The most commonly disposed of e-waste in apartment communities are televisions, cell phones, and computers. Cathode ray tubes (CRT) from old TVs are comprised of lead, equivalent to 4-8 lbs. per unit. The average shelf life for a cell phone is 18 months. It’s estimated that there are more than 500 million used cell phones currently ready for disposal. Their coatings are made of lead and batteries made of nickel and cadmium. There are many toxic elements in computers as well. Laptop lamps along with their circuit boards contain mercury.
If residents are not properly informed about safe disposal in their complex, there is an increased risk that they will toss it into the garbage. This will lead to higher waste bills, an increased chance of environmental contamination, and will escalate landfill levels. If residents toss e-waste into the recycling bin, all recyclables can become contaminated and recycling efforts lost.
It is important to devise an e-waste recycling plan by deciding if you will collect any items or point residents in the right direction.
You can easily set up small e-waste collection bins in your leasing office and utilize one of many recycling options. For example, Cell Phones for Soldiers collects used phones for deployed soldiers at no cost to you. You can even print out a free shipping label online. There are numerous companies that that will accept mail-in e-waste and make sure everything is properly disposed of. Retailers like Best Buy and Staples accept everything from computers, monitors, laptops, to fax machines. You can also check out Earth911 for local drop off centers.
All communal trash and recycling containers should be clearly labeled. Signs with photos of recyclable and non-recyclable items are extremely helpful. If you decide to set up a collection site on your property, let residents know what they can/cannot drop-off, where, and when. If you do not want to collect anything, it would be wise to inform residents about local drop-off sites so they can dispose themselves.
After defining your options, it is important to determine if a recycler is operating under strict environmental controls. The recycler should be certified (e.g., ISO 14001) and should recycle 90 percent or more of the materials.
Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and gives unwanted items new life, thereby reducing green gas emissions and pollution, saving energy, and saving resources.