E-Waste: What happens with your outdated or broken gadgets

Technology fans across the world could not wait to get their hands on Apple's new iPhone 5 as soon as it was released; even though the new device required a whole new set of chords, and connectors. What many Apple enthusiasts did not think about was the amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, that their new toys created.

One of the growing concerns of many environmentalists is that as technology changes so does the need to get rid of the outdated devices and their related parts. According to the Earth Day Network, Americans produce over 50 million tons of e-waste.

These discarded electronics often end up in landfills or are incinerated, which can cause major environmental problems, as they are made up of extremely hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium. If the e-waste is left in a landfill or incinerated, the harmful chemicals will leak into the ground and atmosphere causing multiple problems for the communities. They also don't just disappear, so old printers, monitors and phone chords continue to stay in the landfills for centuries creating problems for the surrounding areas.

Of that 50 million tons of waste per year, only around 20 to 25 percent of it is actually gotten rid of safely and unfortunately, the final 75 percent ends up in landfills.

One of the easiest ways to prevent problems like this from occurring is to properly recycle the devices, but finding a place to recycle them is not always easy.

"Every county in the United States has a solid waste program, every county, every city every state has solid waste program, but there is no real program for e-waste," explains Earth Day Network's president Kathleen Rogers. "Each county has a different way that they collect e-waste, some may ship it to another state, some have partnerships with different recycling companies, and some do not do anything at all."

Rogers recommends checking with your county to see what options they have for getting rid of e-waste, as there is no federal guidance for dealing with this type of garbage. In some cases you need to drive the electronics directly to the local dump to be sorted, or go to an e-waste collection site at a local municipality.

However, there are also a few other options for consumers to do on their own. Some private companies, such as Best Buy and Home Depot offer options for recycling e-waste, and they take on the burden of sorting and figuring out where to ship it. It's important to check out the specifics about what they will take before hauling a bunch of unacceptable items to your local store. Each state has specific regulations for what e-waste can be recycled, and they will turn you away if you bring in the wrong things. 

There's also the option to resell or trade-in your current device after you upgrade to a new one.This can be done privately through websites like Amazon.com and Gazelle.com, or through the manufactures like Apple and Samsung. Another option is to try recycling location search engine 1800recycling.com, which finds local places that recycle anything from electronics to hazardous waste.

  • Shoshana Davis

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