Modern society has produced a wide array of electronic devices that have been a boon to productivity and personal enjoyment. The rapid pace of technological advancement continues to offer opportunities for new or upgraded electronic equipment. In turn, electronic scrap or e-scrap is now the fastest growing segment of Tennessee's solid waste stream.
E-scrap is a general category for electronic products facing displacement or replacement that are hazardous due to the toxic metals present with their internal materials, coatings and glass. E-scrap contains metals and other materials that can be hazardous to human health and the environment if they are not properly managed. According to an EPA study, 40% of the lead in U.S. landfills is from discarded electrical and electronic products. E-scrap may include personal computers, monitors, televisions, keyboards, printers, telephones, typewriters, calculators, copiers, fax machines and audio equipment.
There are commodities worth capturing in e-scrap plus there are substances of concern in electronics that should be kept out of the environment. Traditional recycling commodities in computers and components include glass, metals and plastic. The metals include ordinary metals like aluminum and steel; precious metals like gold and platinum; as well as toxic heavy metals including cadmium, nickel and lead. Most computer recyclers utilize an integrated approach that seeks to refurbish whole systems, gather working parts for reuse and locate scrap markets for remainder of the materials.
Core electronics recycling typically includes computer components such as central processing units (CPUs), cathode ray tubes (CRTs)/monitors, printers, mice, keyboards and other peripherals. Beyond computers e-scrap recycling includes televisions, cell phones and other personal portable electronic devices like pagers and PDAs.
The volume, weight, storage needs and costs associated with e-scrap present special challenges but can be safely managed if individuals, organizations, communities and agencies take thoughtful, coordinated action. Best management practices prescribe e-scrap to be handled in the most environmentally desirable method. It is helpful to understand the preferred hierarchy for handling e-scrap:
Reuse of electronic equipment, components or demanufactured items.
Recycling of equipment or components for material recovery.
Management of components for energy recovery.
Disposal of components via incineration.
Managing e-scrap is not a simple process. It requires time, understanding and effort. The department is pleased to share more specific information on e-scrap and electronics recycling tailored to these different stakeholders: