Emory Report
January 17, 2006
Volume 58, Number 15


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January 17, 2006
The lowdown on consumer electronics recycling

Claire Houston Wall is program coordinator for exterior services in Campus Services.

Electronic products contain materials that should not be treated as common waste. Most if not all contain materials (metals and plastics) that are recyclable and have reuse value. There are also quantities of specific materials (such as lead, mercury and cadmium) that are potentially hazardous if not disposed of properly.

As the production and use of electronic products increases, the challenges of disposal and recovery of materials are becoming significant. The commercial sector has been recycling electronics for more than 20 years and is the driving force in creating and growing the electronics recycling industry. Consumers own vast quantities of electronic products, but many of these are disposed of in landfills or left unused in storage. Every day, more TVs and personal computers become obsolete or are otherwise replaced, creating a growing need to inform and motivate the public about consumer electronics recycling.

More than 400 U.S. companies are considered electronics recyclers; they specialize in the proper handling and disposal of electronics with the objective of optimizing recycling and reuse. This month, on Jan. 29 and 30, Emory Recycles and Atlanta Recycling Solutions (ARS), an electronics recycler, will be stationed at the Briarcliff Campus to provide the Emory community with a chance to recycle electronic products.

The nature of materials collected and recycled from electronics includes whole equipment, components, subassemblies, metals, plastic and glass. Whole equipment, components and subassemblies are remanufactured or reused. Recovered metals are sold to regional ferrous and nonferrous scrap dealers and refiners. Mixed plastic, recovered primarily from equipment housing, is sold to markets that will transform it into “plastic lumber” or other thick-walled products.

Some plastics are so mixed with metal fractions that they are irretrievable; these are consumed in the process of recovering and refining recycled metals, where their BTU value replaces fossil fuels. Most of the recycled glass comes from color cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Because CRT glass contains lead, when pulverized it can substitute for concentrated lead ore in the smelting process to produce metallic lead.

As an electronics recycler, ARS’ primary goal is to ensure that all equipment received is handled in full compliance with any specified requirements regarding asset tag removal, data or hardware destruction, limitation on reuse, or other restrictions. Once these requirements are met, ARS tries to direct all equipment to its highest value secondary use. To discourage the uncontrolled and environmentally damaging “recycling” practices common in many developing countries, ARS does not utilize offshore markets for used equipment.

On Jan. 29 from 10 a.m.–3 p.m., and on Jan. 30 from 7 a.m.–5:30 p.m., bring electronic products for recycling to the front Briarcliff Campus parking lot. Equipment accepted includes computer monitors; microwave ovens; laptops; computer mice; printers; video machines; network equipment; camcorders; cameras; stereos; fax machines; CB radios; CD and disk drives; VCRs; electronics batteries; telephones; keyboards; circuit board cables; typewriters; eight-track (reel-to-reel tape); scanners; radios; computer CPUs; modems; copiers; record players (turntables); cell phones; and CD players. Televisions are accepted with a $10 recycling fee.