Sustainability 101

How Is E-Waste Recycled? (VIDEO)

The United Nations Environment Program calls electronic waste the “fastest growing waste stream in the world.”

In 2015, NYC joined a growing list of cities and states requiring the proper disposal and recycling of e-waste.

Lifecycle of Electronics (Infographic from e-stewards.org)
Lifecycle of Electronics (Infographic from e-stewards.org)

A typical building generates close to one ton of e-waste every few months.  Many buildings (and homes) have tons of e-waste in storage, taking up valuable space.

  • In one example, over 18 tons of e-waste was collected from one building alone in the first two weeks of a new e-waste program.
  • In another building, over 2484 pounds of e-waste was collected in just two hours!

So what happens to your old electronics once it enters your building’s e-waste recycling program or after you drop it off at an e-waste recycler? While the process varies, in general, this is what happens:

  1. Your old electronics might be inspected to see if they any items can be resold or refurbished, or if any parts can be reused.
  2. Items that cannot be reused are generally shredded at a recycling plant. Many facilities use an optical sorting system to identify materials using a laser beam, and separate them into plastic, metal and computer chips.
  3. The sorted materials are then sold globally, where they are recycled. E-waste can be a valuable resource since it is easier to exact some heavy metals like gold and lead from e-waste than from ore itself.  Some materials are recycled here in the U.S.  For example, glass from light bulbs is used as filler in some highways in Connecticut.

Here are two video examples:


NOTE: There are currently two certification programs – e-Stewards and R2 – that work to ensure that e-waste sent for recycling is processed responsibly. When not handled responsibly, sometimes, e-waste ends up polluting poor countries.

Learn more:

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