Think twice before you toss your old electronics in the trash can. You may not know it but consumer electronics are full of dangerous heavy metals that don't need to wind up in landfills. In landfills these heavy metals will leach into the soil and eventually make it into our water supply. From there it will get into our drinking water and cause health problems. This is a growing concern as the pace of technological innovation continues to increase. People are getting rid of their electronics faster now than ever before as technological advancements make better electronics available faster. At the moment it is estimated that 70% of all dangerous heavy metals in landfills come from consumer electronics even though they only make up 2-3% of our total trash and these numbers are projected to continue rising.
Heavy Metals aren't the only environmental problem caused by the massive amounts of consumer electronics piling up in landfills. Most consumer electronics also contain a lot of plastic and due to the high temperatures these plastic casing can be exposed to they generally have a flame retardant additive in them. This is a chemical that is mixed into the plastic resin during production that increases the melting and burning point of the plastic. The nature of this additive makes it leach out easily in hot weather like we experience here in Texas and across the south. This chemical then leaches into the soil and eventually it too makes it into our water supply.
The problem also expands beyond our local landfills in the US. The same heavy metals that make consumer electronics harmful in landfills make them valuable to countries that need raw materials such as China and India. The problem however, is that when electronic waste is shipped to these areas it is shipped in bulk. Not all of the electronics shipped can actually be recycled at the plants they are sent to overseas. This leads to toxic electronic waste dumps building up in rural areas of countries like China and India near these facilities. Furthermore, these countries don't have the environmental regulations or inspections in place to do anything about these toxic dumps of electronics and they pose a serious threat to the local communities in these regions.
In Texas the problem has gotten serious enough to prompt a response from the state government. The Texas legislature in Austin recently passed a measure that requires computer manufactures selling products in Texas to provide free recycling for old and broken computers. This will help decrease the amount of electronic waste in Texas' landfills but is by no means an adequate solution to the problem. The law does nothing to address the growing problem of TVs in landfills sense it doesn't require TV manufactures to provide free recycling of TV's. It is anticipated that with the recent switch to digital TV there will be a large number of old, non-digital compatible TVs, being disposed of. In the absence of easy recycling, a lot of these TVs will end up in landfills where they will pollute the soil and ground water. Further governmental action is needed to prevent this problem from getting worse.
So next time you have electronics to get rid of, be it a laptop or a cell phone, think twice before dropping it in the garbage can. Instead take them all to your local Goodwill where they will be tested and re-sold, repaired, or recycled depending on their condition. This is a great way to help out the community and keep nasty chemicals out of our water supply. In Austin you can also drop off electronics at an Ecology Action recycling center in Downtown or the cities landfill recycling diversion center in south Austin for no charge. Most cities provide facilities like this to help limit the amount of electronic waste that goes into landfills, so make the extra effort to find out where the nearest recycling drop off location is and take your old electronics there instead of sending them to the landfill.