Tighter e-Waste Rules Could Recover Tons of Money

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Photo via iFixit
StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem) is urging for more stringent e-waste regulations, stating it isn't only good for the environment, but could be helpful for pocket books as well. In a metric ton of used cell phones, there is about 7.7 pounds of silver, .75 pounds of gold, .3 pounds of palladium, and .28 pounds of copper. While that seems like a tiny amount compared to the total pile, the value adds up to over $15,000, according to StEP, giving recyclers an incentive other than environmental concerns not to send tons of e-waste off to toxic dumps when it could be turned into cash. Yes, e-Cycling Is Expensive
There's no denying that there's a financial reason why e-waste is sent off to developing countries for processing Reuters reports:

"All too often, e-scrap in developing nations is incinerated to recover metals," StEP said. That was cheap and could be lucrative, but emitted toxins including heavy metals and dioxins.

"Recycling -- if properly done -- is costly," Kuehr said. He said there were at least 700 containers of waste equipment waiting in ports in west Africa, part of a mountain of some 40 to 50 million tons of waste electrical and electronic equipment produced every year.

Right now, e-waste is a huge concern in places like China and Africa where electronics are processed in highly toxic ways in order to recover the precious metals. Even putting aside the larger true cost of this kind of pollution (health impacts, water and soil impacts, air quality issues extending far beyond the boarders of these dumps), there is still the fact that a portion of the recycling costs can be offset by recovering these metals and reselling them, rather than mining and processing new metals.

By now it should be standard practice, and not a green-edged news flash, for major electronics manufacturers and recyclers to be properly recycling equipment and keeping it out of e-waste dumps.

Looking Beyond Recycling
One of the ways to keep e-waste out of dumps is to reuse the electronics. Mobile Active, an organization that works to turn mobile phones into tools for social and environmental change, proves that old cell phones can most certainly find new life. If recyclers are bent on getting rid of electronics and not properly recycling them, they can at least send the waste to places like Peru that has a strong system for reusing electronics brought in for recycling.

Granted, there are many obstacles and economic factors involved in e-waste recycling, which is why we have the mess in the first place. But with precious metals waiting for recovery, and with people eager for used electronics to help with a range of projects, there is incentive enough for stricter regulations to outweigh taking the easy, toxic route to "recycling."

More on e-Waste Recycling
Recycling E-Waste In Confidence: A Reachable Goal
What's Your e-Waste IQ?
EPA Provides New E-Waste Guidelines, But Zero New Regulations

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