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Frequent Questions


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General Information on E-Waste

How much e-waste is in the waste stream?

In 2009, discarded TVs, computers, peripherals (including printers, scanners, fax machines) mice, keyboards, and cell phones totaled about 2.37 million short tons.

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How much e-waste is recycled?

A great deal of what is labeled as “e-waste” is actually not waste at all; rather, it is whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery. In 2009, approximately 25 percent of TVs, computer products, and cell phones that were ready for end-of-life management were collected for recycling. Cell phones were recycled at a rate of approximately 8 percent. For more information see Electronics Waste Management in the United States.

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How much e-waste is exported?

Reliable data on exported e-waste is not available. The 2011 Electronics Waste Management report models the number and weight of electronic products that are in use, storage, and end-of-life management in a given year, extending from purchase from the point when the product is either disposed or collected for recycling. EPA has not yet developed a methodology to estimate the amounts of electronic products that were collected for recycling and subsequently managed and processed. Consequently, EPA cannot yet estimate the portion of electronics products collected for recycling that are subsequently exported.

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What is the environmental impact of disposing electronics into the environment without any precaution?

Electronics are complex devices which are made of a wide variety of material constituents. Some of the constituents, such as lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury, could pose risks to human health or the environment if mismanaged at their end-of-life. EPA is very concerned about ensuring the proper management of used electronics and has undertaken important work to increase the collection and responsible recycling of used electronics.

As for managing electronics disposed in the US in landfills, we believe that disposal of electronics in properly managed municipal solid waste landfills does not threaten human health and the environment. The results of landfill leachate studies, suggest that currently allowed disposal of electronics — including those containing heavy metals — in modern municipal solid waste landfills are protective of human health and the environment. However, we strongly support keeping used electronics out of landfills, to recover materials and reduce the environmental impacts and energy demands from mining and manufacturing. Electronics are made from valuable resources, such as precious metals, copper, and engineered plastics, all of which require considerable energy to process and manufacture. Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and as a result, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution, save energy, and save resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth.

For example:

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Where can I find a place to recycle my electronics?

For organizations providing information on electronics donation and recycling opportunities in your area, please visit our Where Can I Donate My Old Computer and Other Electronic Products? page.

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How do I choose between sending my used computer equipment for reuse or recycling?

Define clear objectives of what you want to be done with the equipment and the ultimate disposition of the equipment and/or component parts. Consider asking yourself the following questions:

Reuse and Donation

Demanufacture/Recycle

For more information on donating computers, please visit our Electronics Donation and Recycling page.

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What should I do with my cell phone before I donate or recycle it?

Prior to donating or recycling your cell phone, there are three things you need to do:

For more information regarding deleting information from a cell phone, contact the cell phone recycling program you plan to use

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How do I recycle my cell phone, batteries and accessories?

Drop them off or mail them in. Cell phones and their accessories can be recycled easily and conveniently. Cell phone recycling programs can be accessed from every state in the United States, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. Many cell phone retailers, manufacturers, and service providers have ongoing programs where you can drop off, or mail in your used wireless phones, regardless of the age or model. Some charitable organizations and state or municipal solid waste programs also offer cell phone recycling. In almost all cases the recycling service is provided for free.

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What happens to a cell phone after it is collected?

Once a cell phone is dropped off at a participating retail store, or mailed in, the device will likely be packaged and shipped to a recycling facility for evaluation. The used phone is typically inspected for:

Reuse: If wireless devices and accessories are in good working condition they can be cleaned up and returned to service. In other cases, the phone is disassembled and the parts are reused;
Refurbishment: Many wireless devices may be reconditioned or repaired and returned to service; or
Recycling: When wireless devices reach their end-of-life, they are sent to processing facilities that recover and recycle the reusable materials.

In 2009, approximately 38 percent of mobile devices collected for end-of-life management were reused or refurbished, and 62 percent were recycled for material recovery.

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Benefits of Reuse/Recycling

What are the environmental benefits of reusing and recycling e-waste?

Electronic products are made from valuable resources and highly engineered materials, including metals, plastics, and glass, all of which require energy to mine and manufacture them. Reusing and recycling consumer electronics conserves our natural resources and avoids air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by manufacturing virgin materials.

For example:

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What products can be made from the materials recovered by recycling cell phones?

Almost all of the materials used to manufacture a cell phone can be recovered to make new products. Metals, plastics, and rechargeable batteries from recycled cell phones are turned into new materials and products.

Cell phones contain a number of different metals – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin, and zinc – that are recovered in the recycling process. The recovered metals are then used by a number of different industries such as jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive, and art foundries.

The plastics recovered from cell phones are recycled into plastic components for new electronic devices or other plastic products such as garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers, and replacement automotive parts.

When the rechargeable battery can no longer be reused, the battery can be recycled into other rechargeable battery products.

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What environmental benefits do we get from recycling cell phones?

Recycling your cell phone helps protect the environment in a number of ways. Cell phones are made from valuable resources such as precious metals, copper, and plastics—all of which require energy to mine and process. Recovering these materials by recycling avoids the need to mine and process new materials, which in turn, conserves our natural resources, and avoids air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, we would save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 24,000 US homes in a year.

Cell phones have a number of different metals in them which can be recycled. For every million cell phones we recycle, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered. Recovering metals from used cell phones can reduce extraction of raw metals from the earth.

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What are the social benefits to recycling cell phones?

If the cell phone and its accessories are in good working condition, some collection programs donate them to a number of worthy charities or provide them for sale to those who need them. In addition, many reuse and recycling programs use the proceeds of their programs to benefit charitable organizations, such as domestic violence, environmental causes, children’s safety, etc. Other recycling programs work with schools and other organizations to collect cell phones as fundraising ventures. The principal markets for refurbished cell phones extend beyond the US—availing access to modern communication technology to many people in developing economies with who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

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Electronics Recycler Certification

How can I find out if my local electronics recycling program uses recyclers that are certified? How can I find an electronics recycling firm that is certified?

Each recycler may follow different practices, and you will need to decide which electronics recycler will do the job you need done, offer the services you require, and minimize your environmental and informational liability at an acceptable cost. Organizations should seek recyclers that are third-party certified to an accredited electronics recycler certification program. EPA encourages use of electronics recyclers certified to standards that require safe handling of used electronics and adherence to high environmental standards. Visit the eCycling Certification page for more information.

EPA encourages you to find out if the recycler you are considering has been certified by an accredited, independent certification auditor to standards that require safe and environmentally protective handling of used electronics. The ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) provides a list of organizations that certify electronics recyclers to available recycling standards. To find the list of accredited certifying bodies go to www.anab.org Exit EPA. At the bottom of the page select the Search for a Certification Body button; select the recycling standard you are seeking. The contact information for bodies that certify to that standard will be displayed. Recyclers who have attained certification to that particular standard receive a Certificate of Certification from the accredited certifying body, and their name is listed on the certifying body’s website.

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How can I find an electronics recycling program?

EPA encourages you to find out if the recycler you are considering has been certified by an accredited, independent certification auditor to standards that require safe and environmentally protective handling of used electronics. To attain a list of R2 and e-Stewards certified recyclers, contact R2 Solutions and e-Stewards respectively. For a list of recyclers in your region, check with your state environmental or natural resources agency. If you are a homeowner, you should check with your local municipality or solid waste district to learn if there are electronics collection programs or events in your community. The Electronic Industries Alliance Exit EPA, and Earth 911Exit EPA websites identify electronic equipment recyclers in many areas around the country.

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Does EPA prefer one or the other of these electronics recycling certification programs?

EPA is aware of both of these programs, and does not have a preference for either one. Using recyclers that have been certified to either of these programs will significantly advance environmentally sound recycling where ever it is managed. However, as part of the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, EPA, partnering with the General Services Administration (GSA and other agencies, will develop baseline criteria to be included in electronics recycling standards to be used in managing the Federal Government’s used electronics. GSA will then determine which certification programs satisfy agencies’ requirements to use certified recyclers under the revised Federal Electronics Stewardship Policy. GSA will re-evaluate that determination at least once every three years.

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An electronics recycler I contacted claimed they have an 'EPA number.' What does this number mean?

This number does not represent a permit, certification, or any kind of EPA approval of their activities.EPA assigns an EPA Waste Generator Identification Number to companies that handle regulated wastes. Not all electronics or management processes are regulated by EPA. As a result, not all electronics recyclers are required to have an EPA ID number. The Identification Number is used to track regulated wastes sent from one management facility to another. For more information on Waste Generator Identification Numbers, visit the EPA Waste ID Number page.

Reference to specific websites above is for informational purposes only and is not a reflection of EPA endorsement.

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