Story & Photos by Michelle Rojano
E-waste is considered to be anything discarded that is electrical, including electronic devices. Now more than ever, our society not only uses more electronic devices, but we also have a high level of turnover for electronics. This means we go through devices rapidly but we do not necessarily properly discard them.
“The rapid turnover [of] e-waste by modern society has caused this fairly new category of waste to become a major concern for environmental pollution issues, which could lead to public health concerns,” said Daniel Ratcliff, environmental science professor and coordinator.
E-waste that is disposed of improperly can result in toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere. According to Ratcliff, e-waste tested with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure contains more than 5 mg/L of lead. According to the EPA, children under the age of 6 are more vulnerable to the effects of lead. Effects of lead on children include lower IQ, issues with behavior and learning, anemia and hearing problems. In addition, pregnant women are also susceptible to side effects such as underdeveloped vital fetal organs, early birth, a smaller baby and can even be a cause of miscarriage.
According to Becca Stokes, Rose State alumna and environmental science major at Oklahoma State University, lead is not the only risk factor to tossing e-waste in the trash bin.
“[It] creates large amounts of solid waste that is full of toxic materials including mercury, cadmium, chromium and copper. When it accumulates in landfills, these materials are incredibly harmful to the environment,” Stokes said.
Chemicals in landfills can seep into our soil and water sources and even affect our air. According to the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington, residue from e-waste in groundwater can result in humans consuming toxic water, which can have a negative impact on the nervous and reproductive systems.
Recycling electronics has been made easier with popular retailers offering recycling services. Target stores accept plastic bags, ink cartridges, MP3 players and phones. Best Buy recycles everything from broken charging cords to major appliances,
and they even offer haul away options for customers.
According to the Best Buy website, “Consumers recycle more appliances and electronics with Best Buy than any other retailer. The company collects more than 400 pounds of product for recycling every minute our stores are open — no matter what retailer the products were purchased from.”
Best Buy’s goal is to recycle 2 billion pounds of electronics by the end of 2020. In addition, Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma offers recycling for many items including phones. Recyclers of Oklahoma offers recycling for batteries, including car batteries.
Taking care of electronics and making them last is a great way to help reduce e-waste. Donating electronics is an alternative to recycling. Old computers can be donated to public schools or low income families. Computer brands like Apple and Microsoft Surface are known to have good quality items with great durability.
“[We should] update our electronics when needed, with the best brands that are shown to be more durable,” Ratcliff said.
Rose State takes part in reducing e-waste by auctioning or donating its old equipment. People interested in recycling electronics can start by having e-waste bins to toss broken phone chargers, batteries, remotes and other electronic waste. Taking old electronics to local retailers for recycling is another way consumers can safely dispose of electronic items. Sometimes, items may have a trade-in value and can result in extra cash. Appliances can be posted for free pick up or even donated to local appliance repair shops. Typically, they will be properly recycled or even used for parts to fix other appliances.
Recycling bins picked up by the city only take plastic, paper, cans and glass, not e-waste. According to the official website for the city of Oklahoma City, people should rinse cans, jars and bottles before placing in the bin. Boxes should be flattened and all items should be loose; placing items in bags can slow down the separation process.
For more information, visit okc.gov. For a full list of recyclable items and where to locally recycle them, including electronics, visit okc.gov/departments/utilities/recycling/beyond-the-bin.