How to avoid poisoning the environment with your discarded electronics

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency, electronics make up the fastest-growing segment of the municipal waste stream. If those electronics are disposed of improperly, dangerous chemicals including lead and mercury can seep into waterways and pose a public health hazard.

    The EPA’s Dan Gallo said it is very hard for individual consumers to tell where old electronics ultimately end up when they are recycled. The best way to recycle safely is to turn to a company that has already been vetted, Gallo said. The gold standards are R2 and e-Stewards certification.

    To be certified, “they have to document that every vendor downstream is going to handle those products in a responsible manner,” Gallo said. “They (aren’t) just going to burn them in an open pit.”

    There are only a few certified recyclers in the mid-Atlantic region, however, so Gallo recommends visiting the EPA’s website to find retail chains that have pledged to responsibly dispose of electronics returned to their stores.

    If neither of those options is available, Gallo recommends turning to state-licensed recyclers or embarking on your own search. Look for a recycler who tests old electronics and tries to refurbish them or sell the parts before stripping them down to raw materials. Try to make sure anyone who processes TV and computer monitors treats those cathode ray tubes carefully.

    Make sure “they’re storing them properly, and when they break them down they’re using established methods to avoid getting any of the lead out into the environment,” Gallo said.

    Finally, try to make sure your electronics do not end up in burn pits.

    EForce Compliance, a recycling company based in the Gray’s Ferry section of Philadelphia, is on track to become the first R2-certified recycler in the area this summer. Company president Jay Segal said it is quite the process.

    “If you want to be in the business and you want to do it the right way, you can’t proceed any further,” Segal said. “With the R2 certification, now we have all the bells and whistles you could possibly want.”

    Of course, Gallo said the best thing to do with unwanted electronics is determine if they can be donated to others who might be able to use them.

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