Ways to help on Earth Day

Meranda Watling

There are better options for your electronic waste

Old cell phones can be recycled and reused for something else.

Credit: Andrew popik

They linger in closets, garages and attics across America: old cell phones, busted televisions and outdated computers and monitors.

The electronic industry isn’t the only thing booming — the amount of electronic waste it produces is growing too.

More than 3.2 million tons of e-waste ends up in landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA estimated that by this year mobile phones would be discarded at a rate of 130 million per year, adding up 65,000 tons of waste yearly.

The most recent statistics on e-waste recycling are from a 1999 National Safety Council study, which reported of the 20 million computers that became obsolete in 1998, only 11 percent were recycled.

The same report also found that nearly 500 million computers would be obsolete by 2007, and that computers would become obsolete every two years.

If those numbers aren’t alarming, consider that many computers contain hazardous toxins like lead and mercury — the cathode tubes in computer monitors and televisions contain an average of four pounds of lead. When left to sit, computers can release these toxins into the environment.

So those old computers sitting in closets and the dead cell phones lying in landfills are doing more than taking up space: They are polluting the environment.


Recycling reduces the amount of e-waste going to landfills and could reduce the strain on the environment by reusing components.

The District Recycling Center in Portage County accepts electronics, like computers and cell phones, at its facility at 3588 Mogadore Road. The drive is about 15 minutes from campus, but there is no charge to get rid of your old electronics, said Charles Ramer, director of the recycling center.

“Old computers go to a non-profit organization in Cleveland where they are dismantled for recycling or refurbished and offered to local schools,” Ramer said.

There are three primary reasons to recycle computers rather than throw them away, Ramer said.

n All of the landfills in Portage County are full and closed, so trash has to be shipped throughout Ohio to be buried.

n If it’s an old computer, the components still have value. It can be taken apart and recycled and reused for something else.

n There is a potential reuse for it.

“Most folks spent a lot of money on (their computer),” Ramer said. “If we can reuse it, it still has some value.”

The District Recycling Center receives about half a dozen old systems per week, Ramer said. Throughout the year, they also hold special events for people to drop off items. Next weekend there will be a collection in Ravenna.

“Next Saturday in Ravenna, we’ll probably have 400 or so. We’ll probably fill a semi with old computers,” Ramer said.

Computers aren’t the only potential e-waste that can be recycled. Cell phones and printer cartridges, for example, can both be recycled.

Staples stores accept old cell phones, pagers, PDAs and rechargeable batteries, according to the company’s Web site. They also offer recycling on inkjet and toner cartridges.

“We have a cell phone that’s been sitting on the entertainment stand in the living room, it’s been there forever, it doesn’t even work anymore,” said Latasha Thomas, freshman family studies major. “I’ve thought of (recycling) it, but I’ve never actually carried it around when I went to those places.”


Recycling isn’t the only option for old electronics.

Staples works with the site collectivegood.com for cell phone recycling. CollectiveGood also allows individuals to make donations directly through their site, and it even allows them to pick which charity they want it to benefit and, in some cases, gives free shipping.

Many non-profit companies also accept donated computers.

Goodwill Industries, for example, allows anyone to donate an old system or pieces and parts of one.

“Just like any other item, you can bring your computer to the retail location, drive up behind the store and take it to the donation area,” said Cristine Boyd, director of marketing for Goodwill Industries of Akron.

In Portage Country, there are Goodwill locations in Ravenna and Streetsboro.

Computers and accessories account for 4 percent of business for Goodwill of Akron, said Renee Clarkson, director of retail operations. When a computer is donated it’s plugged in to see if it comes on, but because of limited resources it isn’t checked to make sure it works properly or anything else unless a volunteer with computer knowledge is available. The electronics are sold “as is.”

“If it doesn’t work, we put it in our computer recycling bin,” Clarkson said. The computers are then taken to a local recycling center.

Several organizations, including the March of Dimes, have partnered with eBay. It also works with eBay’s Rethink Initiative, pages.ebay.com/rethink, to accept donations of other consumer electronics. The Rethink Initiative is in place to encourage people to act responsibly with what would become e-waste by selling, recycling or donating old electronics and giving them options to do so.

“I have a desktop at my home in Columbus,” freshman biology major Precious Milton said. “We keep saying we’re going to get it fixed, but we never have, so for the last two years it’s just been sitting there in the hallway collecting dust.

“We’ll probably just end up giving it to Salvation Army or something … we should have donated it a year and a half ago.”


Another option when upgrading is to give back your cell phone or computer to the company or to hand it down to a friend.

Some cell phone companies will take back your phone when you upgrade.

That’s what Milton did when she upgraded her phone.

“I gave it back to the company when I got a new one,” she said. “I gave another one to my friend, and I still have one sitting in my room.”

For more information on recycling, including a list of local organizations, go to www.earth911.org.

Contact technology reporter Meranda Watling at [email protected].