Jason Haas


Businesses today position themselves as proponents of sustainability.  It’s something that resonates with consumers and can indeed be a win-win for everyone involved. Businesses see cost savings in recycling old electronics and show environmental stewardship. Our country’s government is joining this movement as well.  The U.S. General Services Administration has announced that the federal government will be banned from disposing old electronics in landfills. This measure falls in line with several individual state laws, such as the one introduced by Illinois in January of 2012, that enforce a landfill ban on electronics. Additionally, federal agencies are now required to use a certified recycler for their e-waste disposal. This is a very significant step—the government is the country’s largest consumer of electronics and it has been criticized in the past regarding its e-waste disposal practices. This new measure will ensure that all government-generated e-waste is processed by e-Stewards® or R2® certified recyclers.


Finding the proper balance between viablesolutions and environmental impact can be difficult.  When it comes to recycling electronics, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is all too relevant.  According to the EPA, the U.S. generated 3.19 million tons of e-waste in 2009 and a only a staggering 600,000 tons were recycled (17 percent).1  What does this tell us? It doesn’t mean that people don’t care about the environment, but it does speak loudly to the ease of putting trash out to the curb. Despite the simplicity of trashing electronics, the unseen danger is the litany of dangerous chemicals inside of electronic material. The EPA states that electronics comprise 1 percent of the material entering U.S. landfills, yet they contribute 70 percent of the toxins found there.2  Among these toxins are lead, mercury and cadmium. TV Takeback estimates just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury can contaminate a 20 acre lake, making the fish unfit to eat.3  On top of that, the mercury can enter the soil and contaminate food, plants and trees.  All of this is certainly alarming, but the fact is that many people just don’t know what to do with their old electronics.


Finding Balance

The first step is research and knowledge is the best tool in the movement for a more sustainable planet. Re-use is the most viable solution. Old electronics can be donated or passed along to others. If the products are not working, recycling is the next best option. Many electronics recyclers pay for end-of-life electronic material that many times is sitting in a storage room. Ask what your company recycling policy is and find out what they do with their end-of-life and obsolete electronics. Encourage co-workers to participate and bring in electronics for recycling.  Sustainability is a joint effort; no one can do it alone. It only takes one person’s efforts to stoke the passion of others and lead to a sustainable planet now and for future generations.


The next step in your sustainable journey should be contacting a local electronics recycler. The importance of using a certified recycler cannot be overstated. Many times, recyclers who do not possess industry certifications are not what they seem. These ersatz recyclers could be mishandling your material, may be brokers for someone else, or they may even be exporting your electronics to a foreign nation. Despite your best intentions and without your knowledge, these uncertified recyclers are damaging your company’s brand and our environment. Everyone who is interested in the sustainability movement should log on to www.e-Stewards.org to find a certified recycler in your area. E-stewards is a program of the Basel Action Network (BAN), a nonprofit group based in Seattle, WA. BAN was founded in 1997 and named after the Basel Convention, the United Nations treaty that restricts trade in hazardous wastes and is intended to stop the dumping of toxic waste on developing nations. In the last decade, BAN has exposed the issue of toxic trade through investigations, reports and documentary films. The e-Stewards certification is considered the “gold standard” in the electronics recycling industry.  Among its features, certified recyclers are prohibited from disposing of toxic waste in landfills or incinerators, exporting hazardous waste to developing countries, and using prison labor in the recycling of electronics.


Certified recyclers are also a great source of knowledge about viable electronics recycling solutions. Ask them about hosting a collection event, e-waste drive, or other event to raise awareness about safe electronics recycling. Another idea is to look into investing with companies that are leading with the sustainability message and have best practices with technology and certifications.  Brokers will always be around, but the companies that are investing in new technology will be the ones who make great strides in the recycling industry. We are all inhabitants of just one Earth and it is everyone’s responsibility to do what is best for the environment that we all share.


Technological Breakthroughs

Electronics recycling companies are beginning to employ fully-automated recycling processes in place of manual demanufacturing. This allows electronics to be shredded and sorted into saleable components without exposing humans to the harmful toxins inside.  These components are typically sold back to product manufacturers in a true closed-loop process. Primitive harvesting methods such as open-air burning (see Figure 1), acid washing, and even smashing products apart are still employed in developing nations. These methods expose humans and the environment to the toxins inside of electronics. In more developed nations, advances in recycling technology have greatly reduced the environmental impact of electronics recycling. Technology on the market has completely computerized machines that take less than five minutes to process a single item.  Laser-guided cutting systems, integrated with glass cleaning technology, can similarly reduce a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) down to its saleable components without putting humans in danger.  New technology for the recent creation of flat panel televisions and monitors can separate and sort mercury from these products in a completely self-contained environment.


Electronics recycling is a relatively new concept, but it is extremely important for having a sustainable planet.  Electronics are omnipresent in our everyday lives and software is constantly being upgraded, which causes the amount of global e-waste to exponentially grow.  By joining together and educating ourselves and our neighbors, we can all sustain our beautiful planet and its environment.


Jason Haas is in Marketing at Creative Recycling Systems (Tampa, FL). Jason is a graduate of Northwood University in Midland, MI, with a BBA in Advertising and Marketing.  His career at Creative Recycling Systems is a perfect match for his passion for sustainability. Jason can be reached at (813) 386-6070, ext. 239 or via e-mail at [email protected].




  1. www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/materials/ecycling/docs/fullbaselinereport2011.pdf
  2. www.erecycleny.com/benefits.aspx
  3. http://tvtakeback.org