Electronic Waste

As many photographers and all computer users know, rapid increases in technology render much of our equipment outdated in just a few years. When businesses, professionals, consumers, etc. purchase new equipment, their old “electronic waste” often finds its way into landfills. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) highlighted this growing problem with the creation of “WEEE man.” WEE man is a 7 meter (23 foot) tall, 3 ton humanoid figure that is representative of the amount of electronic waste the average UK citizen will create in a lifetime, 90% of which ends up in landfills. The figure is composed of waste such as washing machines, televisions, microwaves, and mobile phones. WEEE man was named after the EU Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Directive which, in January of 2006, will require manufacturers and retailers to be responsible for recycling their products. The site also helps businesses and individuals calculate their electronic footprints and outlines steps to manage and reduce this footprint.

Somewhat encouraging, this Mercury News article found that the public is either keeping or donating their old computers in higher numbers, and are less likely to simply throw them away.

The survey, conducted last year, included 7,527 households and 2,500 workplaces around the country. It found that 30.1 percent of household respondents keep their old computers and use them, 22 percent pass them on to friends and 17.3 percent keep them in storage. An additional 8.9 percent donate the old machines to charity and 8.6 percent junk them. Only 3.6 percent said they recycle their old PCs.

Ness noted that his survey suggested that businesses are recycling old computers at a 19.1 percent rate, six times higher than households. Homes with small children were twice as likely to keep and still use their older computers (43.3 percent) than single-person households (20.9 percent).

The survey found that lower-income families were more likely to recycle discarded computers than wealthier respondents.

PC World lists ways to dispose of your old computers and cell phones in an environmentally friendly manner.


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