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E-Waste Recycling Tips

Today's electronic devices are a wonderful feat and use of technology, but have created a significant waste disposal problem: e-waste. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 3.2 million tons of electronics—including computers, monitors, copiers, fax machines, printers, televisions, and other electronic items become "obsolete" in the eyes of consumers—are sent to landfills each year nationally. Within California alone, the California Integrated Waste Management Board estimates that there are currently 6 million obsolete computers stored in homes and offices, and 10,000 to 15,000 more electronic devices become obsolete daily. The result is a growing challenge for businesses, residents, and local governments as they search for ways to reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of this equipment.

A recent SLAC Today article described how California has increased disposal requirements on "universal wastes," common household hazardous waste items such as fluorescent lights and batteries. Now the state also requires individuals and businesses to manage e-waste as universal waste.

One result of this new legislation is that computer equipment retailers now charge computer purchasers a fee that goes into a state funded program for the recycling of the equipment. The fund helps support the market for state-approved recyclers to see that e-waste is properly managed and recycled.

In addition, all individuals and businesses are asked to adhere to good e-waste recycling practices. The following questions and answers offer guidance on how to manage e-waste at SLAC and at home.

What is e-waste and why is it a problem?
E-waste includes various electronic devices, including televisions and computer monitors, computers, printers, VCRs, cell phones, telephones, radios, and microwave ovens. These devices often contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, copper, and chromium, which can cause serious environmental problems if not properly disposed of.

If I can't throw this stuff in the trash how do I get rid of it?
Many local government agencies run programs that help households properly recycle e-wastes. For information on local collection programs, contact your municipal waste service provider or check
California Integrated Waste Management Board’s universal waste web page
California Recycling
Per SLAC policy, do not bring hazardous waste to SLAC.

What happens if I throw e-waste in the garbage?
E-waste is a form of hazardous waste. It is illegal to dispose of e-waste in the garbage. Eventually, chemicals in illegally disposed e-waste can be released into the environment and contaminate our air, water, and landfills.

How do I know if a particular electronic device can’t be thrown in the trash?
The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has tested many electronic devices including: tube-type and flat panel televisions and computer monitors, laptop and desktop computers, printers, radios, microwave ovens, VCRs, cell phones, cordless phones, and telephone answering machines. The devices that DTSC tested contained concentrations of metals (lead and copper) high enough to make them hazardous wastes when they are discarded. Unless you are sure they are not hazardous, you should presume these types of devices need to be recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste and that they may not be thrown in the trash. Resources to help you in the management of e-waste are:
California Integrated Waste Management Board’s universal waste web page
California Recycling

What’s the future of e-waste management?
While we cannot predict all the trends in the management of e-wastes, one trend in particular seems clear for our increasing volume of e-waste. Electronic waste has significantly increased over the years from our usage of computers and associated equipment. We are already seeing an increased effort by electronics manufacturers to set up take-back programs. These types of programs can be important in considering the products we use in households as well as the products we use at SLAC. Whenever technically and economically feasible, it's best to use products from those manufacturers that manage their products in an environmentally responsible manner and that reduce our liabilities from mismanagement of wastes in our country or overseas.

How do we manage e-waste at SLAC and keep an eye on good environmental stewardship practices?
Please use the following steps to minimize e-waste and see that used electronics equipment is properly managed through its life cycle at SLAC:
• Work with SLAC Purchasing and Stanford Computing Services to procure equipment using SLAC-approved vendors and that meet Energy Star requirements
• Work with your department Computer Service Administrator to a maximize reuse of existing electronics equipment through it life cycle
• When electronic equipment is no longer usable in your area, work with the Salvage Group to have the equipment reused by other departments or recycled through DOE or outside organizations. Note: Please consider keeping all equipment intact so that reuse options and potential cost rebates can be maximized.
By working with retailers and recycling vendors, recycling costs can be kept down by allowing them opportunity to work with more reusable materials.

If you have questions, please contact Rich Cellamare at x3401 or

—Rich Cellamare, SLAC Today, July 3, 2007