Recycling Household E-Waste

Mention the words “household waste” and most of us almost immediately think of kitchen waste, including glass bottles, aluminium cans and foil, plastic and of course, food waste. This is not surprising because this type of waste does account for the largest chunk of domestic waste in most countries, including the UK. In the last few years, many of us have become more sensitive to the need for recycling waste and do our bit for the environment by segregating bio-degradable material from metal, plastic and glass. E-Waste

What is e-waste?

In an increasingly digital use-and-throw world, a less obvious, but more pernicious form of household waste takes the form of used batteries, defunct appliances and electronic gadgets and gizmos that work, but are out-of-fashion. Such “e-waste” or WEEE (“waste electrical and electronic equipment” as this type waste is referred to) can cause serious damage to our ecosystem if disposed of carelessly or inappropriately. Many electronic devices and the batteries they run on contain heavy metals that can contaminate ground water by leaching into the soil.

Responsible Disposing

It’s therefore vital that we dispose of such waste carefully. So what can you do? If your gadget is in working condition, it may well be useful to someone less privileged. Look for charities and other organisations that might be able to give what you do not need to someone who does. Not only are you being responsible towards our environment, but you’re also bringing joy to another person. Some charities sell the second-hand items they collect to raise funds for various purposes (e.g. the British Heart Foundation raises funds for medical research).

Adopt a different approach if your old mobile phone or computer, for that matter, doesn’t function any longer. Search online for a recycling centre near where you live and drop off the dead device there. Most large retailers have special in-store arrangements to collect used mobile phone batteries and similar waste. Thereafter, let the recycling experts take over the task of disposing e-waste safely.

The recycling process

If you’re wondering what these recycling centres do with old electronic gadgets and electrical appliances that don’t work, here’s what happens. Most such devices contain metals such as zinc, copper or cadmium. In fact, some high-end electronic devices may even contain gold. The e-waste is taken to special facilities where different metals are separated and extracted. Once you have these metals in pure form, they are as good as new, and can be reused to manufacture various things. Gold extracted from electronics can be used to make jewellery or reused in new electronic gadgets.

How major an issue “WEEE” or “e-waste” is may be seen from the fact that there is EC level legislation governing how it is to be disposed of. These rules apply to a wide range of electronic items including lighting, toys, audio and video devices, computers, mobile phones, electrical appliances like toasters, microwave ovens and so on. Tightening environmental standards are forcing companies to develop new manufacturing processes that reduce the need for metals. Here too, reuse, recovery and reduction are the mantras for waste recycling.

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Did You Know?

spacer According to Defra, each person in England produced an average of 457 Kilograms of waste in 2009-10. Of this, an average of about 181 Kilograms per person was recycled. That left 60% of un-recycled waste, at an average of 276 kilograms per person.

From Protect Our Environment