Sustainability 101

Fact Sheet: E-waste and Universal waste

noun_28916_ccWhat is E-waste?

E-waste refers to electronic waste that may include working and non-working items that are obsolete or unwanted.

Examples:  Computers and peripherals (monitors, keyboards, printers, scanners, fax machines); televisions; small electronic equipment (VCRs, DVD players, portable digital music players, game consoles).

noun_25553_ccWhat is Universal Waste?

Universal waste is a board category generally referring to waste that is generated by a large, diverse population (rather than just industry), that contain hazardous materials.

Examples: Fluorescent bulbs, batteries, pesticides, mercury containing equipment.


Regulations

E-waste:

Universal waste:

NOTE: Besides federal and state rules, remember to check mandates specific to your city. Remember that rules may also vary based on the size and type of building or business.

What Should You Do?

E-waste and universal waste should not be disposed of as trash — they must be stored and removed separately from other wastes by a vendor licensed to handle them.

If you are a building owner/manager:

  • Check the rules in your location to ensure continued compliance.
  • Check on your building’s e-waste/universal waste program to ensure that it is at maximum efficiency.  Make adjustments to pick-up frequency, tenant education, storage locations, vendors and other aspects if necessary.
  • Establish agreements with tenants. Make sure they are using the building’s e-waste/universal program correctly. Where tenants elect to make their own contract arrangements for their e-waste and universal waste, make sure building management is provided with a written plan concerning the legal disposal of materials.
  • Request a certificate of recycling for every pick up.
  • Consider using certified recyclers. Currently there are two certification standards for e-waste: R2 (Responsible Recycling Practices) and e-Stewards®. Companies that adhere to these voluntary standards are ensuring their clients that they meet specific standards.  Without this certification, it is difficult to know if the items are really being recycled responsibly, or if they are being mishandled, or even dumped in poor countries.
  • Establish a portfolio-wide, approved vendor list to create a more standardized system to track e-waste and universal waste across multiple properties.
  • Organize e-waste and/or universal waste drives several times a year (eg: on  Earth Day or America Recycles Day) to encourage recycling, and to raise awareness of the building’s e-waste and universal waste programs.
  • If you are renovating or relamping, remember to check to see where the e-waste and universal waste generated by your project is going.  A contractor may not be aware of the rules specific to your building/location. Do not assume that they disposing of your e-waste and universal waste properly. You will face penalties for their mistakes.

If you are a tenant:

  • Ask the building/property manager about the e-waste and universal waste program in the building. If you can and do decide to make your own arrangements, be prepared to offer poof to the building management that such materials are being properly handled by your contractor.

Additional Solutions

  • Look for mail-back programs like Terracycle, which offers e-waste zero-waste boxes that you fill and ship back; Call2Recycle, which runs a similar program for batteries and cell phones; and companies like NLR and ALR for bulbs.

How is E-Waste Recycled?

While the process varies, in general, this is what happens to your e-waste after it gets picked up from your office/building and sent to a recycler.

  • Your old electronics might be inspected to see if they any items can be resold or refurbished, or if any parts can be reused. They may be dismantled into material type – plastics, circuit boards etc.
  • 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.
  • The sorted materials are then sold globally, where they are recycled. E-waste can be a valuable resource since it is easier to extact some heavy metals like gold and lead from e-waste than from ore itself.  Some materials are recycled here in the U.S.

Learn more or WATCH how e-waste is recycled (VIDEO)

How is Universal Waste Recycled?

The process varies depending on the type of universal waste. Here is how mercury-filled lamps are generally processed:

  • The processing machine separates the lamp into its recyclable component parts.
  • It captures and filters the mercury vapor and mercury-rich phosphor powder so that it can be reused.
  • The remaining components (aluminum end-caps, glass) are then mechanically separated.

(VIDEO) Watch how the “lamp machine” works at recycler NLR or learn more at ALR.

How big is the problem?

In the U.S., a typical building generates close to one ton of e-waste every few months. (Here are two examples: 18 tons of e-waste collected from one building in the first two weeks of a new e-waste program; 2484 pounds of e-waste collected in two hours.)

The United Nations Environment Program calls e-waste the “fastest growing waste stream in the world.” Another study predicts that by 2017, the volume of e-waste will weigh almost as much as 2000 Empire State Buildings.

With many buildings beginning to switch to LED lights, an increasing amount of universal waste, particularly mercury-filled lamps, is being generated.

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