Electronic discards include computers, monitors, televisions, printers, and other electronic devices. Today’s consumer electronic products are characterized by rapidly evolving technology and a relatively short product life. The average lifespan of a computer is currently about three to four years, and advances in technology for all electronic equipment, particularly cell phones, soon renders them obsolete. Due to the relatively low price of new equipment, items that break or become obsolete are often discarded into the waste stream rather than being repaired or upgraded. Given the sheer volume of electronics and the hazardous materials they may contain, consumers and generators are encouraged to seek environmentally safe options such as reuse or recycling when their electronics reach the end of its useful life.
Why are they Potentially Harmful?
Electronic equipment contains metals that, if not properly managed or contained, can become hazardous wastes:
- Cadmium - The largest source of cadmium in municipal waste is rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries.
- Lead - Old monitors and televisions contain a cathode ray tube (CRT) that contain leaded glass. CRTs are the largest source of lead in municipal waste.
- Mercury - Some electronic equipment also contains recoverable quantities of mercury.
Electronics may also contain other materials such as hexavalent chromium, brominated fire retardants, lithium, and phosphorous coatings that, if improperly disposed, can pose a threat to human health and the environment.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, the Covered Device Recycling Act (CDRA, Act 108 of 2010) required manufacturers of desktop computers, laptop computers, computer monitors, computer peripherals and televisions to provide recycling services to residents of Pennsylvania.
Beginning Jan. 24, 2013, the CDRA banned the disposal of these devices and any of their components in municipal waste.
The following is a list of recycling opportunities and locations provided by manufacturers for these devices, Manufacturer Electronics Collection Programs & Drop-Off Locations (PDF).
Electronics retailers are required to provide customers with information on how and where to recycle the materials that have been banned from landfills. If you are unable to find a viable recycling option in your area, please contact these manufacturers who must provide recycling to 85% of the Commonwealth.
The following webpage provides information on county, municipality, and non-profit groups that collect electronics for recycling.County and Municipality on-going and one day collection programs Please note - the materials accepted by these collections vary.
Many electronic items such as cell phones, computers and televisions can be recycled at local retailers that sell the items. Check with your retailer for details of any programs they may have.
Spent rechargeable Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion), and Small (weighing less than 2 lbs./1 kg.) Sealed Lead (Pb) batteries can be recycled through many retail outlets. These batteries are commonly found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders, digital cameras, and remote control toys. Find out where you can recycle them using the consumer information at Call2Recycle.org
For further information regarding electronic recycling opportunities in your area, you can also call DEP’s Recycling Hotline at 1-800-346-4242.
The CDRA prohibits manufacturers and retailers from charging consumers a fee for the collection, transportation, or recycling of a covered device unless a financial incentive of equal or greater value is provided (e.g. a coupon or rebate). Covered devices include desktop computers, laptop computers, computer monitors, computer peripherals and televisions.
Collection locations may charge fees if they are not a retailer and are not affiliated with a manufacturer’s recycling program.
Any collection location, regardless of whether they are a retailer or are affiliated with a manufacturer’s recycling program may charge a fee for the recycling of non-covered devices.
How can I generate less electronic waste?
Reduce - Maintain and keep equipment as long as possible.
- Evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes.
- A typical computer's lifespan is three to four years, but can be extended by two to three years with some upgrading.
- Buy a good monitor; it can last six to seven years or more. Keep it for use with your next computer.
- Always use a surge protector power strip with all electronic equipment.
- Cell Phone donation/reuse opportunities:
Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)