Electronics Are a Waste Management Issue. Here’s What You Can Do.

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Emily Joan Elliott for ELi

The first hint of spring brings an urge to clean, and East Lansing residents may be wondering how to recycle their household electronic devices during these challenging times.

As electronics become smaller, cheaper to manufacture, and more affordable to buy, many are disposed of improperly. Computers, TVs, laptops, VCRs, DVD players, cell phones, printers, fax machines, video game consoles and more become obsolete or reach the end of their usability, creating a disposal dilemma.

So what can people in East Lansing do to properly dispose of these items?

Michigan law allows residents and small businesses to toss small electronics in the garbage cart, according to Cathy DeShambo, Environmental Services Administrator for the City of East Lansing. She explains that “There are simply much better solutions for managing electronic waste.”

Modern landfills are created with liners to protect soil and groundwater from pollutants, but small electronic devices can contain leaded glass, mercury switches, mercury bulbs, brominated flame retardant plastics, as well as cadmium, chromium, and lead. These can all be toxic if released into the environment, says DeShambo.

“There are a number of options available to residents for electronics recycling,” she notes.

Michigan law requires manufacturers to set up take-back programs through which the manufacturer takes old electronic devices from consumers and sends them to certified recyclers. The law also requires retailers to sell only brands that participate in the program.

The City of East Lansing has compiled a list of locations that will take old electronics. You can also check out a variety of options in the Tri-County area here.

“I always advise residents to call first just to make certain that a vendor is still accepting electronics, as policies can change,” DeShambo says. 

On the MSU campus, recycling coordinator Dave Smith says their extensive Community Reuse Program is temporarily suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the local government recycling events that took place in the Tri-County area, such as RecycleRama, have also been canceled or scaled back during the pandemic, Smith adds. 

For area residents who want to recycle that iPad quickly, some of the larger retail stores offer buyback and/or recycling programs, including Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. For others that may want to recycle from the comfort of their own home, companies like Apple offer mail-in recycling options for many electronic items. This may be particularly appealing during the pandemic since Apple will send you a kit to mail back your item for recycling. 

Of course, investigating your options before purchasing new electronics is also helpful. Consider how you will recycle the electronic device you are purchasing at the end of its useful life and how you will recycle or dispose of any electronics being replaced by your purchase.

Many large manufacturers now provide leasing or reverse distribution (take-back) options for their customers to facilitate the collection and recycling of the materials in electronics.

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