How to responsibly recycle electronic devices is a perplexing problem for everyone, especially state lawmakers and regulators. The breakneck pace of innovation in electronics technology creates a constant demand for newer and faster products and applications. Being the first to market with new or better products is a life or death competitive reality for manufacturers which is driving shorter and shorter times for model introductions. At the same time the expanding demand for electric devices is penetrating virtually every realm of modern life and challenging recyclers and regulators across the country.
Even so, keep e-waste in perspective. It only represents approximately 1 to 3 percent of the solid waste stream and industry experts estimate that 10 to 18 percent of the material is currently being captured and recycled. The EPA estimates 13 percent is recycled.
Obviously, more needs to be done simply because while the stream is comparatively small it is potentially dangerous – containing hazardous lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and polyvinyl chlorides, among others, substances that have toxicological effects that can cause brain damage, kidney disease, mutations and cancers if not handled properly. ...read more
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E-waste and appliances begin to overlap
The word “appliance” in its strictest sense is a piece of equipment for adapting a tool or machine for a special purpose. In common vernacular it has come to mean a broad spectrum of household and industrial electromechanical devices too broad to enumerate here. The products span everything from a hair curling iron to multi-ton rooftop air conditioners.
The household appliance industry divides appliances into three broad categories: 1) Major white-goods such as refrigerators, freezers and ranges. 2) Portable appliances which include kitchen countertop units, home comfort products like air conditioners, fans, alarms, humidifiers and personal care products like hair dryers and electric tooth brushes. 3) Floor care units such as vacuum cleaners, extractors, steamers and central vacuum systems.
That, of course, does not include handheld or stationary power tools, central air conditioners, water heaters, and myriad other electromechanical devices that have penetrated the home and workplace which are also considered “appliances.”
While 23 states presently have electronic waste regulations, it would appear that not many have specifically addressed the recycling of household appliances. Hazardous materials harbored in appliances such as refrigerants and mercury are governed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for collection and disposal.
Appliances generally contain a small fraction, by weight, of what are defined as traditional e-wastes such as cathode ray tubes, flat screens and printed circuit boards. Appliances do have electrical plugs and wires, and some are battery powered. Many have electric motors and are valued by recyclers for laminated steel housing and copper. And the materials they are made of – metals and many plastics – have good scrap market value.
Compared to consumer and IT electronics, however, appliance circuitry is generally simpler and more basic; a switch, perhaps a small circuit board, wires and a few electronic components. Yet, it is there. And, as appliances become smarter, there will be more of what some consider “e-wastes,” but still not a significant proportion compared to other materials of which they are made.
In the coming years, however, large and small appliances will likely be adding electronic weight. This will occur as more user-friendly features like touch-screen displays, scanners and sensors are added with the emergence of smart-appliances.
Utilities across the country have already installed millions of smart-meters, and more are on the way. Smart-appliances are beginning to enter the market to interface with smart-meters. They will incorporate demand response modules to give consumers, and in many cases utilities, the ability to program or remotely control appliances to reduce electric consumption and take advantage of lower time-of-use rates. ...read more