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e-Waste Recycling: e-Cycling on Campus

e-Waste recycling prevents old cell phones from ending up in a landfill

Credit: Adrian Clark / Flickr

In American alone, over 125 million cell phones are discarded annually, creating an additional 65,000 tons of waste that is added to US landfills each year. This accumulation of e-waste not only puts an extra burden on already overflowing landfills, but it also causes other environmental problems. So why isn’t there more focus on e-waste recycling and why aren’t we doing more to recycle our electronic waste?

Why e-Waste Recycling is Necessary

According to the EPA, discarded cell phones contain high levels of toxic materials, such as lead, barium, cadmium and mercury, that render them hazardous when disposed. Carcinogenic toxins from disposed mobile phones could potentially leach into soil and groundwater to contaminate freshwater sources, including drinking water.

We all Contribute to the Pool of e-Waste

Almost everyone owns at least one cell phone, which generally gets replaced/upgraded every 18-24 months. As a result many people often own one or more obsolete, broken, or old unused cell phone, which typically ends up tossed out with the household trash to join the ever increasing piles of e-waste on landfill sites. College students are notorious for keeping up with the latest fads and trends – having the latest mobile phone is usually of paramount importance for these users. Consequently, a lot of e-waste is discarded every year by this group of cell phone users alone.

e-Waste Recycling Programs

Recycling programs for e-waste – often referred to as e-cycling – can dramatically reduce this burden on the environment, and the associated health risks. While there are many e-waste recycling centers in major cities, these are very often inaccessible or simply inconvenient for people without transport, such as students, to get to. Implementing e-waste recycling programs at colleges and universities will therefore make e-waste recycling more readily available to this core group of cell phone users.

Benefits of Recycling e-Waste on Campus

A campus e-waste recycling center can be run as a non-profit community project, or as an income generating business. It could also present a good opportunity for business students to get involved with in order to gain hands-on experience with establishing and running a business venture.

Cell phones that are dropped off at a campus e-waste recycling facility can be recycled on-site or sent to an e-waste recycler who will evaluate the device to determine whether it is suitable for reuse, refurbishment, or recycling. Cell phones that are in working order and cell phones that can be repaired can be recycled back into use, while devices that cannot be reused or refurbished can be dismantled and the components recycled for reuse. Components from dismantled cell phones can be used to refurbish damaged devices where possible, saving on material costs. There is potential to profit from the sale of recycled and refurbished cell phones, and from the sale of components that can be reused for cell phone repairs. There is also potential to recover high value precious metals, such as gold and silver, from e-waste, which can be sold for profit.

By offering students incentives such as cash or credit points that can be used on campus in lieu of cash, students can be encouraged to dispose of their old cellphones in an environmentally responsible manner at the e-waste recycling center. By implementing an e-waste recycling program, a university will establish a reputation as a green institution that cares about the environment and strives to encourage its students to be environmentally aware. Through this program, students will be encouraged to make environmentally sound decisions when disposing of unwanted e-waste, which will benefit them in the future ahead.

Things to Consider When Starting an e-Waste Recycling Facility on Campus

There are several factors that need to be considered before setting up an e-waste recycling facility on campus. First, the financial viability and long-term sustainability of such a program would need to be considered. One would need to determine potential markets for recycled e-waste products, and weigh up the cost of establishing such a facility with the benefits and financial returns received from the sale of recycled e-waste products. One also needs to consider how students will be encouraged and motivated to support an e-waste recycling center, should such a facility be established on campus.

What are the Benefits of a Campus e-Cycling Program?

Recycling old cell phones will not only benefit students and the university or college, but will also benefit the environment and ultimately the broader community. Recycling cell phones for reuse or to reuse components will reduce carbon dioxide emitted during the production of these devices or components, and thus will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But most importantly, by keeping these devices out of landfills, universities/colleges can play a large part in preventing carcinogenic toxins from leaching into soils and contaminating freshwater systems where they could potentially pose an environmental and human health risk.

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