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Why You Should Recycle Old Electronics

by Martha Smith

New electronic products are popular gifts during the holiday season, but what happens to all of the older tablets, gaming systems, TVs, mobile phones, laptops and other devices that are being replaced? In many cases, they accumulate in basements or take up space in closets or drawers. According to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI) --a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the environmentally responsible management of used electronics-- there is a better solution that frees homes from post-holiday clutter, preserves valuable resources, protects the environment and safeguards confidential electronic data.

"Stashed in a closet, old electronics are an unwanted space stealer, but when responsibly recycled, they’re literally a gold mine,” says Patty Osterberg, director of education and outreach for SERI. “Recycled electronics contain 40 to 50 times more gold, silver and other precious metals than ore that is mined from the ground,” says Osterberg, referencing a study published by United Nations University.

Recovering the precious metals contained in electronics is becoming increasingly important as the global demand for new electronic products deplete the world’s limited supply of these natural resources. Responsible recycling preserves resources by reducing the environmentally destructive need to mine for raw materials, and also keeps potentially toxic materials out of landfills. Resource preservation is one of the fundamental principles of SERI, and of the R2 Standard for Responsible Recycling (a certification program administered by SERI that establishes best practices for reuse and recycling.)

Employees work to disassemble electronics sent to SERI for recycling. Photo credit: SERI

Even more environmentally beneficial than materials recovery, however, is extending the life of electronic devices through reuse. Osterberg added, "Used electronics that have been tested and refurbished are bridging the digital divide by making affordable electronics available to more people all around the world. In addition to reusing electronic devices, many electronic parts and components can be reused to manufacture completely new and different products. For instance, parts from a smart phone can be reused to manufacture e-readers and remote controllers."

When choosing an electronics recycler, it’s important to do your homework – not all recyclers manage used devices responsibly. A recent study found that 48 percent of the electronic devices being sold for reuse on popular online sites still contained personal data. Choosing an R2 certified broker or recycler reduces that risk and provides added assurance that your data will be securely destroyed in accordance with the top industry practices for data destruction. The R2 Standard requires that electronic devices are reused or recycled in a way that most benefits the environment, protects human health and safeguards confidential electronic data. R2 certified brokers and recyclers must pass comprehensive annual audits of their procedures and facilities to prove their conformance to the best practices identified in the R2 Standard.

SERI has raised the bar for electronics reuse and recycling worldwide with more than 550 R2 certified companies operating in 22 countries. In addition to oversight of the R2 Standard, SERI is leading other global initiatives to make sustainable electronics recycling and reuse more accessible worldwide. sustainableelectronics.org

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