E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life." Computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, mobile phones and fax machines are common electronic products and make up one of the fastest growing segments of our nation's waste stream. The National Safety Council projects that nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years and mobile phones are being discarded at a rate of 130 million per year.
Used electronic products are the most rapidly growing problem in our waste stream due to their quantity and toxicity. Electronic wastes, such as televisions, computers and computer components, contain toxic substances, including lead, mercury, cadmium, lithium, brominated flame retardants, phosphorous coatings, and PVC plastics that create dioxins when burned. These toxic materials can be released upon disposal, posing a threat to human health and the environment.
Computer monitors and older TV picture tubes contain an average of four pounds of lead and require special handling at the end of their lives. In addition to lead, electronics can contain chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, zinc, and brominated flame retardants, presenting problems if not disposed of properly. Extending the life of your electronics or donating your most up-to-date and working electronics can save you money and save valuable resources. Safely recycling outdated electronics can promote the safe management of hazardous components and supports the recovery and reuse of valuable materials.
Using proper disposal methods helps to keep harmful metals such as the lead found in computer monitors out of landfills, which is also resulting in the protection of nearby ground water supplies from potential metal contamination from landfill leachate. Electronic products that can be reused, result in less energy being required to produce new ones and this saves energy and reduces pollution. Sometimes recycling computers can create a supply of parts and materials that can be used on the manufacture of new products or to refurbish older ones.