State’s efforts to ban electronic waste disposal in municipal landfills has been mostly ineffective, although California’s Cell Phone Recycling Act has had a positive impact on cell phone recycling, says a study by a University of California, Irvine professor.
UCI professor Jean-Daniel M. Saphores presented his analysis at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. He says recycling rates for e-waste are abysmally low and certain demographic groups like women and seniors are unaware of their options. Providing more information to these groups could drastically improve recycling efforts, he says.
Saphores’ research found disparate efforts by individual cities and states is not effective. He suggests that stakeholders and government agencies need to rethink their approach to e-waste disposal and adopt policies that focus on the entire lifecycle of products, thus reducing the negative impact on public health and the environment.
The study cites estimates of 84 million obsolete TV sets and more than 200 million broken or old cell phones gathering dust in people’s homes, along with other electronics like older computers and monitors. All of these old electronics contain a smorgasbord of harmful chemicals and metals that are hazardous to health and the environment, such as lead in the older TV’s glass screens, as well as arsenic, copper and mercury in old circuit boards and cobalt, zinc and copper in the rechargeable batteries.
The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 imposed requirements on retailers and manufacturers for equipment containing cathode ray tubes and liquid crystal displays. But while the cell phone recycling efforts in California have netted good results, Saphores found that other bans have not had the same effect.
Saphores suggests a deposit-based refund system, similar to what retailers charge consumers when they buy beverages.
E-waste recycling outreach efforts are beginning to target specific demographics. FundingFactory, a recycling fundraiser program of Clover Technologies Group, last month launched Collected, a free e-waste recycling program for college campuses that lets schools exchange e-waste for cash or rewards.
Easier consumer access to scrap electronics collection sites, spurred by manufacturer funding, has contributed to an increase in e-waste recycling and a decrease in government spending in New York State, according to a report published in July by the Product Stewardship Institute for the Natural Resources Defense Council.