Myths About Recycling Electronics

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Electronic waste is growing at a rapid and uncontrollable rate and is the fastest growing portion of the municipal waste stream. While the amount of e-waste has been increasing, it remains a tiny percent of the total municipal solid waste stream. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste—including discarded TVs, VCRs, DVD players, and audio systems, as well as personal computers, fax machines, and printers—constituted only 1 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in 1999, the first year EPA calculated electronics discards. Data for 2001 again showed electronic devices had not increased as a percent of total municipal waste but remained at 1 percent.

Nor is e-waste growing at a rapid rate. National Safety Council (NSC) data show that the number of discarded computers will level off by 2005 at 63 million, and will then begin to decline. While improved technology can quickly make machines obsolete, it can also extend the lifespan of the next generation of computers. More powerful microchips will soon provide machines with much greater capacity.

Computers buried in landfills endanger public health because they contain toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, and mercury that can leak out into the soil and groundwater. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs), the most common type of computer display monitor, typically contain four pounds of lead to protect users from the tubes' x-rays, the same way a lead vest protects patients who have x-rays. Because lead is a health risk at high exposure levels, many lawmakers are rushing to ban display monitors and other electronics from municipal landfills, fearing that the lead and other toxic metals can leak out into the ground soil. . . .

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