image-toxic-triangleThe advancements in computer technology and the information economy that we have enjoyed over the last twenty years has brought us enormous benefits. They include the availability of: instantaneous worldwide communications, wireless document sharing, history-making video produced with a small device in the palm or your hand and the list goes on and on. It would seem that without technological devices such as computers, cell phones, monitors, tablets, servers and associated hardware, much of today’s business could not exist.

Those advancements though, in most cases, rely on some sort of electronic equipment or hardware that was produced using a variety of scarce and sometimes toxic materials and chemicals. Just take for example a simple smartphone of today. It is highly likely that it contains hazardous flame retardants, PVC, bromine, and heavy metals like lead, mercury, tin, calcium, and chromium. These are all materials that are regulated by the EPA. And, this is just in a small cell phone. An average computer is made of about 50% metal, 25% plastic, 15% glass and 10% gold/silver/palladium or platinum.

Think of all the computers and components and associated hardware that has been produced over the past twenty years. The average person has had and disposed of up to six or more personal computers. And industry estimates indicate that the average resident of the U.S. gets a new cell phone every 18 months. What happens to all that stuff?

All that stuff is now labelled as “e-waste.” Because technology advances so fast, much of these pieces of consumer and business electronics hardware are considered disposable. Easily over 60 million personal computers are disposed of in the U.S. each year. Where does it all go?

We strongly encourage recycling (donating to another organization, returning it to the manufacturer, breaking it down for parts and, when all else fails, safely disposing of the equipment). The government estimates that in 2009 only about 25% of TVs, computers, etc. were recycled. Recycling recovers valuable components and materials and, as a result, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and energy use are all reduced while less raw materials are extracted from the earth.

Unfortunately, plenty of electronics are not recycled. If electronics are just tossed into the trash they can heighten the risk of polluting the air, and contaminating the soil as well as leaching into water sources. Even those that end up in a landfill are worrisome. Water flowing through a landfill picks up trace elements from these materials and the water is contaminated. Eventually this water, now called “leachate,” gets through layers of natural and manufactured landfill liner and other protection. When it reaches natural groundwater, it introduces lethal toxicity to our ecosystem…and your garden! That is bad news.

We encourage the following:

Recycle – Use a certified e-waste recycling organization for a host of reasons—security as well as environmental. Many municipalities are organizing special dates for recycling/disposing of e-waste. Twice a year IT Radix provides free e-waste recycling for our clients—April (in honor of Earth Day) and November (RED Month).

Return – A number of retailers have effective recycling programs in their stores.

Donate – Charitable organizations can sell your used electronics to fund their missions.

Enjoy the advancements that technology has brought us, but remember to dispose of them properly to ensure we can all enjoy this beautiful planet for many more years, and advances, to come!

First published in our April 2015 IT Radix Resource newsletter