Electronic waste, the result of our obsession with the latest and greatest gadgets, is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Unfortunately, these appliances contain hazardous materials, in addition to several that are quite valuable, so tossing them in the landfill is both dangerous and foolish. But this is America, and we take the easy route. We won’t make the effort to properly recycle electronics until makes us. So that’s just what Colorado did.
Last April, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Electronic Recycling Jobs Act, a statewide ban on disposing of electronic waste in landfills. The ban, which goes into effect July 1, 2013, is meant to drive more material into recycling operations, creating jobs at certified recycling plants.
Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and as a results, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, saves energy, and saves resources by extracting fewer raw materials. According to the EPA, recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 US homes in a year. One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the U.S.
Proper recycling of electronic waste requires a skilled workforce. Employees must be trained in the handling and disposal of hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and arsenic. The cost of proper training and facilities means that many private e-waste recycling companies charge a fee for their disposal services, but there are alternatives. Best Buy and Staples are just two of the big box retailers that will accept old electronics for free recycling.
Colorado’s legislation is sweeping and will no doubt catch many residents and businesses by surprise. However, the state is making an effort to inform people ahead of time, and provides a wealth of online resources about why, where, and how to dispose of their electronic waste responsibly. However, county commissioners may vote to opt out of the ban if no infrastructure is available and if the county cannot secure a minimum of two collection events per year or provide a collection facility within the county.
Live in Colorado? Learn more about the ban and how to comply at Colorado.gov.