You've probably seen the signs hanging around your place of business, or maybe you've seen ads in the newspaper promoting a way to get rid of your old computer. "Donate your computer to a third-world school!" or "We recycle your old monitors!" Those seem like noble ideas, but they also beg the question: What is actually being done with your trash?
Odds are that it is ending up in a third-world country, but the only person working on it is the trash man, not a teacher. According to a recent AP story, activists estimate that out of the nearly half a million tons of electronics collected for recycling, more than half of it will be pulled apart by hand. Workers use menial tools and sometimes just their bare hands to extract anything valuable, while at the same time, being exposed to numerous toxic chemicals.
Garbage is a problem for any society to wastes as much as America does. And the primary problem seems to be that no one wants to deal with it. States are currently passing laws to ban electronic waste from ending up in their landfills, leaving few options available.
Who will take responsibility? That resides on a number of levels. First, many companies have recycling programs so that users can send outdated items back. Apple, Dell, HP and Sony take back their products at no charge. It should be a requirement that if a company produces electronic material for public consumption, the material can be returned to the company for its reuse or safe disposal.
Ultimately, it's up to the consumers to be responsible about it as well. If you are concerned with our growing landfills (how can you not be?), it makes sense to purchase from the companies listed above. Also, even though it may seem easier just to buy a new machine instead of having the old one fixed, consider the consequences of doing this. Even giving your old machine to a student interested in computer electronics might be a suitable alternative for taking it to an e-cycling drive.
Granted, not every electronic waste collection is destined for a landfill. If you are donating to charity, at least try to make sure it ends up being used. And don't try to bring your obviously broken computers and monitors because then you'll be wasting everyone's time as well.