E-waste is an unfortunate by-product of living in today’s world, and it’s getting more out of control by the day. In 2009 alone, discarded TVs, computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, keyboards, and cell phones totaled more than 2.3 million tons, according to the EPA. But you might be surprised to hear one of the other major positives that responsible e-waste recycling brings to the table.

E-Waste Recycling Benefits The Environment…

The recycling of metal, plastic and glass — crucial components of any electronic product — can provide many well-known benefits, such as:

  • Conserve natural resources
  • Prevent additional air and water pollution
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are created from mining and manufacturing original materials.

For example, using recycled metals from old cell phones prevents the need to extract raw material from the earth. In addition to environmental benefits, there are some social benefits as well. Collection programs in various communities allow old equipment such as cell phones and computers to be used for charity, such as schools and homeless shelters. Items like refurbished cell phones — which can be outdated and obsolete by U.S. standards, can find new life in third world countries where modern communication technology is sorely lacking.

… And National Defense

Not only is electronic recycling good for the environment, it’s also beneficial to our nation’s defense system, as it allays the use of counterfeit parts that can end up in the electronic components that our various branches of military utilize. Because our military actively utilizes electronic components in everything from submarines and night-vision goggles to thermal weapons and helicopters, it’s important that only the highest quality materials be implemented in those components.

Sometimes, though, counterfeit electronics instruments make their way into this equipment — up to a million found each year — allowing for the increased chance of sub-par quality of operation and even failure. When investigators trace back the various supply chains of the electronic equipment used, they discovered many of them leading back to the Guangdong province of China, a noted hotbed of counterfeiting. What happens is that e-waste collected in the US is shipped to China (instead of responsibly recycled) to be used as “feedstock”. That feedstock is then used to cut costs while fabricating new electronics, which are then sold back overseas to various entities, including the US military.

What makes this so dangerous is the fact that the feedstock is regularly subjected to harsh and dangerous processes and conditions in order to prepare them for implementation. This includes parts being heated over open fires, soaked in acid and other chemicals, left outdoors and exposed to the elements,

By ramping up e-waste recycling initiatives, the use of illegal counterfeit parts — particularly from overseas — can help curb this frighteningly real counterfeit practice, per a recent report by the US Defense Magazine. The presence of counterfeit parts in a piece of equipment that costs tens of millions of dollars to make could easily compromise the entire endeavor.

As you can see, there are many benefits to e-waste recycling, from environmental and social benefits to national defense benefits. Do your part to conserve e-waste by participating in community drives and charity collections, and confirm that all waste collected will be disposed of responsibly.