Electronic Waste Management

Electronic waste or "e-waste" is a term used to describe old, end-of-life electronic appliances and devices. Examples of "e-waste" include:
  • computers;
  • monitors;
  • fax machines and copiers;
  • television sets;
  • stereo/audio equipment;
  • phones (including cell phones);
  • personal digital assistants (PDAs);
  • game consoles; and
  • electronics from industrial sources.

As we become more dependent on electronic products to make life more convenient, the stockpile of used, obsolete products grows. "E-cycling" is reusing or recycling of these consumer electronics.

Computer monitors and older TV picture tubes contain an average of four pounds of lead. In addition to lead, electronics can contain chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, zinc and brominated flame retardants. When electronics are not disposed of or recycled properly, these toxic materials can present problems.

Electronic waste or e-waste often has hazardous or toxic components that can impact the environment once the materials end up in a landfill or if they are improperly managed and disposed. Below is a list of hazardous or toxic components of e-waste and where they may be found:

  • Antimony trioxide - a flame retardant, added to cathode ray tube monitor (CRT) glass, found in printed circuit boards and cables
  • Arsenic - in older cathode ray tubes and in light emitting diodes
  • Barium - in the CRT
  • Beryllium - often allied with copper to improve copper's strength, conductivity and elasticity. Old motherboards, contact springs found in printed circuit boards, relays, and in the mirror mechanism of laser printers. In power supply boxes which contain silicon controlled rectifiers and x-ray lenses
  • Cadmium - circuit boards and semiconductors, rechargeable NiCd-batteries, fluorescent layer (CRT screens), printer inks and toners, photocopying-machines (printer drums)
  • Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) - Cooling unit, Insulation foam
  • Chromium - in steel as corrosion protection, Data tapes, floppy-disks, circuit boards, photocopying-machines (printer drums)
  • Cobalt - component in steel for structural strength and magnetivity
  • Lead - cathode ray tubes, solder, batteries, printed wiring boards (circuit boards), solder on components
  • Lithium - batteries
  • Mercury - switches (mercury wetted) and housing, fluorescent lamps providing backlighting in liquid crystal displays (LCDs) for monitors and laptops, batteries, printed circuit boards
  • Nickel - batteries, electron gun in CRT , printed circuit boards
  • Polybrominated flame retardants (including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and tetrabromo bis-biphenol-a (TBBA))- plastic casings, cables, and circuit boards, condensers, transformers
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - Cable insulation
  • Selenium - circuit boards as power to supply rectifier, photocopying-machines (printer drums)
  • Zinc - interior of CRT screens, printed circuit boards

Extending the life of your electronics or donating your most up-to-date and working electronics can save you money and saves valuable resources. Safely recycling outdated electronics can promote the safe management of hazardous components and supports the recovery and reuse of valuable materials (U.S. EPA e-Cycling Web Site).

Resource Links for E-Waste

Search Ohio EPA's list of Recyclers and Environmental Service Providers

A working computer is a terrible thing to waste. Donating computers to those who need them is a win-win situation for business and the community. Reusing computers benefits communities, helps us use valuable materials wisely, and keeps working PCs out of the trash. The following fact sheets from U.S. EPA will help get you pointed in the right direction for information on donating your computer equipment:

Do the PC Thing for Consumers
Do the PC thing for Businesses

As your business takes advantage of new equipment, what do you do with your obsolete equipment? Ohio EPA encourages businesses to recycle or donate old electronic equipment. Many schools, nonprofit and charitable organizations accept working electronic goods. If equipment cannot be reused, another good option is sending equipment to a reputable recycler. A recycler will disassemble equipment and recover useable components such as memory boards, disk drives, video cards and microprocessor chips. Plastic and glass components may be recycled into new products. Metals can be separated and sent to smelters where they are melted and used to make new products.

If you dispose of computers and monitors instead of having them recycled, you could be considered a generator of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA requires generators to determine whether or not the waste they generate is hazardous by using generator knowledge or by testing representative samples of that waste.  Computer components could be considered hazardous because of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or chromium.

If you do not test used computers and monitors and prove them non-hazardous, you must assume they are hazardous waste and dispose of them at a permitted hazardous waste facility or recycle them.

E-waste Links for Businesses

Guidance for Management of Electronic Waste from Businesses, Ohio EPA, Division of Hazardous Waste Management

Guide to Computer & Electronics Waste Reduction and Recycling and List of Electronic Waste Recycling Companies, Ohio EPA, Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention

Identifying Your Hazardous Waste (Fact Sheet), Ohio EPA, Office of Compliance Assistance and Pollution Prevention

List of Commercial Facilities Accepting Hazardous Waste in Ohio, Ohio EPA, Division of Hazardous Waste Management

This is a national computer recycling listserv. To subscribe to the list, send e-mail to: listproc@mcfeeley.cc.utexas.edu. Leave the Subject line blank. In the Message Text area enter: "sub CompRecycle Your name"

Electronic equipment is used by almost everyone and advances in technology result in newer equipment continually becoming available for home use. As our old electronic equipment becomes outdated, it is important that we think carefully about reusing and recycling materials, instead of just throwing equipment in landfills. The Electronic Equipment from Your Home fact sheet helps you make the best decisions about what to do with your old electronic equipment. The Electronic Industries Alliance and Earth 911 Web sites also identify electronic equipment recyclers in many areas around the country.

Information on how to remove data and clean your computer’s hard drive is available at Do the PC Thing for Consumers as well.

Used and obsolete electronics, such as computers, printers, mobile phones, and fax machines, are part of an increasing and complex waste stream that poses challenging environmental management problems for state, local and federal facilities.

Visit U.S. EPA’s e-waste recycling Web site for information and resources on electronics recycling.

U.S. EPA invites manufacturers and retailers to join the Plug-In To eCycling campaign! Becoming a partner is great way to both promote your efforts and link them to a national electronics recycling effort. Through Plug-In To eCycling, EPA hopes to highlight the forward-thinking players in electronics recycling and enhance the infrastructure to jump-start the collection of electronics waste. By joining the campaign, your company can receive national recognition from EPA for your efforts!

See information below on U.S. EPA’s Plug-in To e-Cycling Program Web site and additional information in the section below.

Plug-In To eCycling

Plug-In To eCycling is a voluntary partnership between EPA and consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers to offer consumers more opportunities to donate or recycle - to "eCycle" - their used electronics. Partners in the program may:

  • Offer online take back or trade-in programs;
  • Create partnerships with local organizations to facilitate collections;
  • Host collection events at retail locations; or
  • Support local recycling events with cities and municipalities.

Get more information on how to recycle your used electronics through U.S. EPA’s Plug-In to e-Cycling Partners Web site.

Computers for Learning
The U.S. General Services Federal Administration transfers excess Federal computer equipment to schools and educational nonprofit organizations.

International Association of Electronics Recyclers
A non-profit trade organization that supports the electronics recycling industry.

National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI)

National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER)
This web site offers detailed electronics recycling information from all industry work groups (e.g., collection, demanufacturing, refurbishment/resell, research, recycling). It also provides guidance to households and organizations for promoting recycling efforts. Includes a list of electronics recyclers by state.

Recyclers.org is a service project aimed at area businesses, residents, schools, and nonprofit organizations interested in recycling and reusing computers. It is a non-profit computer exchange program that links donors with those who need electronic equipment.

TechSoup.org offers free technology information for nonprofit organizations including information on how to donate used electronics to non-profits, and how non-profits can find refurbished used equipment.