Recycling Electronics

One of the most recognized characteristics of modern technology is the vertiginous rate at which it becomes obsolete. Laptops, printers, tablets, phones—they have all become disposable. So what to do with all the “old” devices?

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA just hosted an Electronics Recycling Workshop to address several related topics. Various government agencies and nonprofits shared what local governments can do to deal with the growing stream of electronic waste that will be discarded by consumers and businesses in the coming years.

For example, it is expected that in the next seven to ten years, waste-disposal sites will start seeing the first wave of discarded solar panels, said the EPA’s Karen Pollard, “and we’re not ready for it,” she added. Pollard was one of the workshop’s speakers and works with the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, in Washington, DC.

There are no federal guidelines to deal with electronics recycling, so each state is left to take a different approach. Another speaker at the workshop was Rob Taylor, with the North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance. He described his state’s three-prong approach to the problem—charging manufacturers (39 of them) an annual fee, banning the disposal of certain electronic equipment (particularly TVs and computer monitors), and economically supporting localities’ efforts to set up year-round eCycling programs.

Northern Neck residents who want to take the recycling initiative, before their localities establish year-round programs, can do so by transporting their electronic products (nearly everything with a plug, as described by Kim Hynes of the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority) to certified recyclers.

Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI) is a nonprofit organization that provides a map and directory listing the names and locations of R2 certified e-recyclers in the world.

To access the presentations given at the workshop, and for additional information about recycling electronic products, visit DEQ’s page on the subject.