After you have upgraded to a new product, how do you gracefully dump the old one?
20 July 2005
When old batteries die, we all have some idea what to do with them so that the toxic substances in them are properly managed, but did you know that many of our favorite electronics products, such as phones, digital cameras and portable audio players can be harmful to the environment as well.
Oh dear, not again! Haven't we had enough of this 'save the earth' stuff already? Well, taking care of your old product is really a small thing to do and it saves us all an awful lot of trouble
What to do with old batteries
Nickel-cadmium (Ni-cd) batteries that in earlier times were widely used in electronic products have been totally banned, for example, in the EU. Instead, Lithium-ion and Nickel-metal rechargeable batteries are now commonly used in portable products. Regardless of the type of battery, they must be disposed through recycling centers or toxic waste management programs. In some areas, you can simply drop old batteries in a small trash bin beside a large trash bin where the normal garbage goes.
How can scrapped electronics harm anyone?
Modern electronic products typically contain materials that are made of heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium. Harmful chemicals like brominated flame-retardants and PVC plastic are also commonly used.
The small amount of heavy metals and dangerous chemicals that you have in your phone won't do any harm to anyone, but when all those millions of phones and digital cameras traded and thrown away each year are considered, not to mention TV sets, or computers, it adds up to a considerable pile of junk. In fact, the amount of junk is so enormous that the toxic materials in the products can harm anyone of us. The harmful substances take a long time to break up, they work their way slowly through the environment and build up as toxics in the water, soil, animals and eventually, in humans.
Dangerous materials have a direct impact on people who have to work on disassembling old electronic products and extract valuable material, like gold, from the scrap. These people, and all of us through a slower toxic build-up process, are vulnerable to long-term effects of the harmful materials, which may cause, especially with children, health problems that affect nervous systems, kidneys, bones, brains and also the reproduction systems of adults.
How to gracefully get rid of old electronics
So you've got your old, tape-eating C-cassette player, crackling wireless phone, or silent CD player hidden in the closet waiting for the day when you decide what to do with them. Today is the day. First, log on to your home town's web site and search for information about recycling or waste management programs. Another place to look for information about local programs is the home page of the municipal waste management organization, or waste management company.
Second, find out if your network operator takes back and recycles old phones, or if your camera or audio player manufacturer has a program for managing retired products.
If the product that you want to throw away still works, you might pass it on to someone else. Perhaps someone in the family would appreciate your old phone, or someone, somewhere logs on to eBay several times a day, anxiously waiting to bid for an old two-megapixel digital camera.
Sometimes, it's easiest just to donate the product to a charitable organization. They may deliver it to developing countries where it gets a new life, or they may sell it to raise funds. Some organizations that manage donations only accept products in working condition.
When you weigh your options for a new product, keep in mind that there are differences between manufacturers and how they manage their environmental responsibilities. Check out the environmental information on product manufacturers' web sites. The key things to look for are information about the materials that the manufacturer is using for its products and recycling programs for their old products.
You can also view lists collected by environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace and evaluate how they rate companies as far as environmental issues are concerned.
Finally, when the time has come to say goodbye to that old and trusty piece of electronics, you might want to check out a few things before getting rid of it. The most important thing is to erase its memory, or storage space, so that your personal information doesn't get into the wrong hands.
Whether it is a camera, phone, or a computer, doesn't matter - there tends to be some information about you and your family stored in the unit. Remove the memory card (if there is one), erase all photos, clear the contact database, delete messages from the inbox and outbox, empty call lists (log files) and calendar entries. If it is possible to format the storage space, as is the case with hard disks and memory cards, do so.
And then, enjoy your new product with a peace of mind and a plan of what to do when the product approaches the end of its life cycle, and it's time to send it to the graveyard of bits and bytes.