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Do’s and Don’t’s of E-Recycling

With the large increase over the past few years in electronic communication devices, and the fast pace in which new versions of the latest cell phones and tablets come out, there is a potential for concern about what is happening to old electronic devices when they are replaced.  Electronic gadgets that are simply tossed in the garbage or sent to an unreliable e-recycling organization can result in toxic waste that threatens health and safety.   Keeping in mind the Jewish value of baal tashchit (do not waste) ,  there are a number of things you can do as you consider when or whether to replace your i-pad, Kindle or similar device.   Below are some tips to keep in mind both concerning replacement of electronic goods and concerning how to responsibly discard your old device.

  • Look for certified e-recycling programs:  If you decide that you really need to upgrade your phone, tablet or laptop, do some research before deciding where to recycle your old one.  There are two independent standards bodies that monitor recyclers for responsible practices. They are eStewards and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International  (SERI). Both groups let you search their websites for local recyclers who meet their standards .   Both companies use a network of auditors to make sure the companies it certifies are doing what they say they are doing with your donation (e.g. stripping it for parts and then selling those parts).   Avoid electronic recycling centers that cannot verify what they will actually do with your donation and that have not been independently certified.   You can find them online at e-stewards.com and www.sustainableelectronics.org
  • Check with the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA):  The EPA also runs a program, called the Electronics Challenge,  that asks companies that electronically recycle to pledge that they will send items collected to certified recyclers and to publicly report their efforts.    The companies involved can pledge their commitment on one of three levels.  Check the EPA website at www.epa.gov/smm/electronics/  to find companies who pledge at the highest level, which requires companies to pledge a high level of commitment to sell to responsible recycling companies and to report on their efforts to do so.  Dell and Best Buy are two examples of companies committed to the highest tier of the EPA program.
  • Go online for additional options:  Several websites exist that will purchase your old electronic devices for a flat rate, depending on their condition.  Two examples are Gazelle and BuyBackWorld. The companies behind these websites agree to refurbish and resell the items you no longer want.  Find them online at www.gazelle.com and www.buybackworld.com
  • Reconsider whether you need to replace your device:  Last but not least, consider whether you really need that latest phone, tablet or laptop at all.  Does your phone really need to replaced only six months out because you want the latest incarnation with the newest gadgets?  Holding on to your electronic gadgets for a longer period of time is the best way to reduce waste in the long run.

Resources:  “Recycling Tech Waste Responsibly:  Excuses Dwindle,”  The New York Times January 1, 2015

Gail Wechsler is the Director of Domestic Issues/Social Justice at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. She is the staff person for the Jewish Environmental Initiative (JEI), a committee of the JCRC and a part of the JCRC's Bohm Social Justice Initiative.
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