Reasons for Recycling
Obsolete computers are a valuable source for secondary raw materials, if treated properly, however if not treated properly they are a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast growing problem around the globe. Technical solutions are available but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied. Electronic waste represents 2 percent of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 30 to 40 million PCs will be ready for end-of-life management in each of the next few years. An estimated 251 million PCs were sold in 2007.
Many materials used in the construction of computer hardware can be recovered in the recycling process for use in future production. Reuse of tin, silicon, iron, aluminum, and a variety of plastics ??" all present in bulk in computers ??" can reduce the costs of constructing new systems. In addition, components frequently contain copper, gold, and other materials valuable enough to reclaim in their own right.
Electronic devices, including audio-visual components (televisions, VCRs, stereo equipment), mobile phones and other hand-held devices, and computer components, contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, copper, and gold. They also contain a plethora of toxic substances, such as dioxins, PCBs, cadmium, chromium, radioactive isotopes, and mercury. Additionally, the processing required to reclaim the precious substances (including incineration and acid treatments) release, generate and synthesize further toxic by-products.
In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronics. Some regional governments are attempting to curtail the accumulation of electronics in landfills by passing laws obligating manufacturers and consumers to recycle these devices, but because in many cases safe dismantlement of these devices in accordance with first world safety standards is unprofitable, historically much of the electronic waste has been shipped to countries with lower or less rigorously-enforced safety protocols. Places like Guiyu, China, and Bangalore, India dismantle tons of electronics every year, profiting from the sale of precious metals, but at the cost of the local environment and the health of its residents.
Mining to produce the same metals, to meet demand for finished products in the west, also occurs in the same countries, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has recommended that restrictions against recycling exports be balanced against the environmental costs of recovering those materials from mining. Hard rock mining in the USA produces 45% of all toxics produced by all USA industries.
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