"E-cycling" or "E-waste" is an initiative by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which refers to donations, reuse, shredding and general collection of used electronics. Generically, the term refers to the process of collecting, brokering, disassembling, repairing and recycling the components or metals contained in used or discarded electronic equipment, otherwise known as electronic waste (e-waste). "E-cyclable" items include, but are not limited to: televisions, computers, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, telephones and cellular phones, stereos, and VCRs and DVDs just about anything that has a cord, light or takes some kind of battery.

Investment in e-cycling facilities has been increasing recently due to technology’s rapid rate of obsolescence, concern over improper methods, and opportunities for manufacturers to influence the secondary market (used and reused products). The higher metal prices is also having more recycling taking place. The controversy around methods stems from a lack of agreement over preferred outcomes.

World markets with lower disposable incomes, consider 75% repair and reuse to be valuable enough to justify 25% disposal. Debate and certification standards may be leading to better definitions, though civil law contracts, governing the expected process are still vital to any contracted process, as poorly defined as "e-cycling".

Pros of e-cyclingEdit

One thought is that any net disposal of e-waste following repair or metals recovery is unethical or illegal if it occurs in developing countries. Another point of view is that the net environmental cost must include the mining, refining and extraction pollution cost of new products manufactured to replace secondary products which are destroyed in wealthy nations, and which cannot economically repair older products. As an example, groundwater has become so polluted in areas surrounding China’s landfills that water must be shipped in from 18 miles (29 km) away.[1] However, mining of new metals has even broader impacts on groundwater. Either e-cycling process, domestic processing or overseas repair, helps the environment by avoiding pollution and being a sustainable alternative to disposing of e-waste in landfills. In addition, e-cycling allows for the reclamation of potential conflict minerals, like Au and wolframite, which requires less of those to be mined and lessens the potential money flow to Congolese militias and other actors that profit from mining them.

Supporters of one form of "required e-cycling" legislation argue that e-cycling saves taxpayers money,[2] as the financial responsibility would be shifted from the taxpayer to the manufacturers. Advocates of more simple legislation (such as landfill bans) argue that involving manufacturers does not reduce the cost to consumers, as reuse value is lost, and the resulting costs are passed on to consumers in new products, particularly affecting markets which cannot even afford those new products. It is theorized that manufacturers who take part in e-cycling are motivated to use fewer materials in the production process, create longer lasting products, and implement safer, more efficient recycling systems.[3] This theory is sharply disputed and has never been demonstrated.

recycling one ton of e-waste would save 1 pound of Au, 1,600 kwh of energy, 1,600/7 pounds of Al, 1,280 gallons of H2O, 1,341/1,250 tons of CO2, $192.00

Criticisms of e-cyclingEdit

The critics of e-cycling are just as vocal as its advocates. According to the Reason Foundation, e-cycling only raises the product and waste management costs of e-waste for consumers and limits innovation on the part of high-tech companies.[4] They also believe that e-cycling facilities could unintentionally cause great harm to the environment. Critics claim that e-waste doesn’t occupy a significant portion of total waste. According to a European study, only 4% of waste is electronic.

Another opposition to e-cycling is that many problems are posed in disassembly: the process is costly and dangerous because of the heavy metals of which the electronic products are composed, and as little as 1-5% of the original cost of materials can be retrieved. A final problem that people find is that identity fraud is all too common in regards to the disposal of electronic products.[5] As the programs are legislated, creating winners and losers among e-cyclers with different locations and processes, it may be difficult to distinguish between criticism of e-cycling as a practice, and criticism of the specific legislated means proposed to enhance it.

The fate of e-wasteEdit

A hefty criticism often lobbed at reuse based recyclers is that people think that they are recycling their electronic waste, when in reality it is actually being exported to developing countries like China, India, and Nigeria. For instance, at free recycling drives, "recyclers" may not be staying true to their word, but selling e-waste overseas[1] or to parts brokers.[6] Studies indicate that 50-80% of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons (270,000 to 360,000 tonnes) of e-waste is being sent overseas, and that approximately 2 million tons (1.8 million tonnes) per year go to U.S. landfills.[1]

Although not possible in all circumstances, the best way to e-cycle is to upcycle e-waste.[7] ["On the other hand, the electronic products in having babies ame nations" -- Please fix], which anti-reuse recyclers depict as primitive. Reuse-based e-recyclers believe that fair-trade incentives for export markets will lead to better results than domestic shredding. The debate between export-friendly e-cycling and increased regulation of that practice was described in [8]

In the European Union, debate regarding the export of e-waste has resulted in a significant amendment to the WEEE directive (January 2012) with a view to significantly diminishing the export of WEEE (untreated e-waste). During debate in Strasburg, MEPs stated that "53 million tonnes of WEEE were generated in 2009 but only 18% collected for recycling"[9] with the remainder being exported or sent to landfill. The Amendment, voted through by a unanimous 95% of representatives, removed the re-use (repair and refurbishmet) aspect of the directive and placed more emphasis upon recycling and recovery of precious metals and base metals. The changes went further by placing the burden upon registered exporters to prove that used equipment leaving Europe was "fit for purpose".

Policy issues and current effortsEdit

Currently, pieces of government legislation and a number of grassroots efforts have contributed to the growth of e-cycling processes which emphasize decreased exports over increased reuse rates. The Electronic Waste Recycling Act was passed in California in 2003.[10] It requires that consumers pay an extra fee for certain types of electronics, and the collected money be then redistributed to recycling companies that are qualified to properly recycle these products. It is the only state that legislates against e-waste through this kind of consumer fee; the other states' efforts focus on producer responsibility laws or waste disposal bans. No study has shown that per capita recovery is greater in one type of legislated program (e.g. California) versus ordinary waste disposal bans (e.g. Massachusetts), though recovery has greatly increased in states which use either method.

As of September, 2006, Dell developed the nation’s first completely free recycling program,[11] furthering the responsibilities that manufacturers are taking for e-cycling. Manufacturers and retailers such as Best Buy, Sony, and Samsung have also set up recycling programs.[12] This program does not accept televisions, which are the most expensive used electronic item, and are unpopular in markets which must deal with televisions when the more valuable computers have been cherry picked.

Another step being taken is the recyclers’ pledge of true stewardship, sponsored by the Computer TakeBack Campaign. It has been signed by numerous recyclers promising to recycle responsibly. Grassroots efforts have also played a big part in this issue, as they and other community organizations are being formed to help responsibly recycle e-waste.[11] Other grassroots campaigns are Basel, the Computer TakeBack Campaign (co-coordinated by the Grassroots Recycling Network), and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. No study has shown any difference in recycling methods under the Pledge, and no data is available to demonstrate difference in management between "Pledge" and non-Pledge companies, though it is assumed that the risk of making false claims will prevent Pledge companies from wrongly describing their processes.

Many people believe that the U.S. should follow the European Union model in regards to its management of e-waste. In this program, a directive forces manufacturers to take responsibility for e-cycling; it also demands manufacturers' mandatory take-back and places bans on exporting e-waste to developing countries. Another longer-term solution is for computers to be composed of less dangerous products and many people disagree. No data has been provided to show that people who agree with the European model have based their agreement on measured outcomes or experience-based scientific method.


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  11. 11.0 11.1 Moore, Elizabeth Armstrong. "Momentum Builds for 'Revolution' to Recycle Electronic Waste." 31 July 2006. The Christian Science Monitor. Accessed 29 November 2007. [1].
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