Electronic equipment discards such as computers, televisions, audio/visual equipment, phones and office equipment is one of the fastest growing segments of our waste stream. Generally known as “e-waste”, it requires special attention for proper disposal. In good condition, electronics can be refurbished and resold, or donated for reuse.
Why should you recycle your electronics?
Two sets of MassDEP regulations govern the management of e-waste. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which are found in older style televisions and computer monitors, have been banned from disposal through the Massachusetts Waste Bans, since April 2000. CRT televisions and monitors are made with leaded glass and contain an average of 4 pounds of lead each.
In 2008, Massachusetts passed the Mercury Management Act that prohibits the disposal of any product that contains mercury. Flat screen monitors, televisions, and other devices that have a back-lit screen contain fluorescent lamps that have mercury. Fluorescent lamps, plus any other mercury-containing items such as button batteries, must either be recycled as a Universal Waste or managed as a hazardous waste.
For these reasons, it is very important that electronic equipment be handled carefully at the end of its useful life. In addition to complying with laws and regulations, recycling makes sense for the planet and your local community because it conserve valuable resources, reduces pollution from production of new materials, and creates jobs.
How do electronics get recycled?
End-of-life electronics are either manually de-manufactured (carefully taken apart), mechanically shredded, or a combination of both. Separated plastic and metal are sold for recycling. Glass is sent to a smelter where the lead is recovered. Precious metals found in circuit boards, including gold, silver and palladium are also recovered in a smelting process. In some cases, e-waste recyclers will “harvest” reusable parts such as hard drives and motherboards for reuse or resale.
Other recyclers test electronics and sell working equipment to wholesalers or consumers or donate to schools and non-profits. Before selecting an e-waste recycler, it is a good idea to ask if they are certified by an independent third-party auditor. Currently there are two accredited certification standards for e-waste recyclers: the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and the e-Stewards standards. Certification to the environmental management standard ISO 14001 is another option for selecting an e-waste recycler.
Learn about recycling other materials
For more information on other commonly recycled materials visit these pages:
- Bottles & Cans
- Construction Materials
- Fluorescent Lamps/Light Bulbs
- Food Waste
- Find out how to start or improve your own recycling program.
- Find a hauler or processor for recyclable materials in your area, search our Recycler Database.
- Find out how you can purchase recycled products, check out our Buying Recycled Products section.
- For more information on recycling in Massachusetts check out the MassDEP Factsheet: Where does it all go?
- Learn about Massachusetts Waste Bans.
- Read the EPA’s guide on Electronics Donation and Recycling.
- Download the Universal waste law small quantity generator fact sheet.