Manage E-Waste Disposal with LEED

Deepa Joseph's picture
Deepa Joseph
December 4, 2016

Used electronics, or e-waste, can be reused, refurbished or recycled to minimize environmental impact and prevent improper disposal via LEED’s Storage and Collection of Recyclables Credit.

An e-waste recycling workshop.
An e-waste recycling workshop.
Credit: transmediale via Flickr

Technology is evolving rapidly. In fact, it has come so far along that we have started accumulating quite a pile of outdated devices.

Industries continuously compete to get newer technologies on the market, and eager consumers are always upgrading their devices to keep up with new trends. What happens to the old, untrendy devices that we dispose of without a second thought? Do consumers fully realize the consequences of simply trashing old gadgets?

In order to deal with those consequences, areas accessible to waste haulers and building occupants should be provided in every building for the collection and storage of recyclable materials. LEED’s Storage and Collection of Recyclables credit best describes how e-waste disposal can be managed.

What is E-Waste?

According to the EPA, e-waste or electronic waste constitutes the parts of electronic devices (such as phones, computers, cameras, printers, tablets) that have been discarded or disposed of, either because they are unusable, dysfunctional or simply outdated.

Not many of us think about the chemical components that lie within our tablets and smartphones. However, they actually contain harmful chemicals like lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic, just to name a few.

Consequently, improper disposal of e-waste poses serious threats. These chemicals, both in their elemental form and combined with atmospheric compounds, are equally hazardous to humans and the environment.

When rainwater reacts with these chemicals, strong acids can leach into the soil and infiltrate groundwater.

Illegal e-waste disposal methods like acid baths and open air burning also expose workers to potentially harmful chemicals. Such procedures lead to adverse health effects on humans, including cancer, miscarriages, neurological damage and diminished IQ.

A pile of e-waste. Credit: Jason Brush via FlickrLEED Materials and Resources: Storage and Collection of Recyclables

In the year 2009 alone, 2.37 million tons of e-waste were produced, with only 25 percent of it having been recycled since. The increasing volume of electronic waste (e-waste)—computers, cameras, printers, keyboards—has become a growing environmental concern.

Therefore, managing storage areas, recycling facilities and haulers that can process e-waste requires great discretion. The disposal procedure for batteries, fluorescent lamps and other e-waste, for example, is more hazardous than for cardboard, glass, plastic, metals and paper.

The intent of LEED’s Storage and Collection of Recyclables credit is to enlist building professionals in reducing the waste that is generated by building occupants and disposed of in landfills. The credit commends the safe collection, storage and proper disposal of batteries, mercury-containing lamps and electronic waste.

The Murky Ethics of E-Waste Trading

Recycling e-waste has come into focus very recently. Before, and even today in some cases, these substances were dumped in landfills or exported to developing countries for dumping.

E-waste in Silver Spring, MD. Credit: takomabiblelot via FlickrAs a result, many villages in Cambodia, Nigeria, Vietnam and other developing countries are now massive e-waste dumps. Those living there are paying the price for the luxurious (and wasteful) lifestyles of citizens in developed countries.

The LEED BD+C Reference Guide specifically mentions that projects without available recycling infrastructure must consider alternate means of recycling, such as reuse or donation.

However, because these communities don't have the resources or infrastructure to implement e-waste recycling campaigns, a lot of manual labour is involved in regulating dumps.

The level of danger that laborers are exposed to during such operations is very high. In fact, the United Nations (UN) Basel Convention restricts the trade of e-waste because of the toxic components it releases.

In July 2011, a UN Task Force released the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship report, which details the federal government’s plan to enhance the management of electronic design, distribution and waste by:

1) incentivizing greener design of electronics;
2) leading by example;
3) increasing domestic recycling; and
4) reducing harmful exports of e-waste and building capacity in developing countries.

These solutions, which are designed to be implemented on a national level, benefit greatly from the impact reductions of LEED-certified building projects. Also boosting their leverage are a number of new technologies and services that help eco-minded individuals manage their e-waste.

What’s New in E-Waste Recycling?

Now that environmentalists have drawn so much attention to this cause, the industry players themselves have come forward with new, eye-catching technologies for recycling e-waste.

Once such example is Apple’s robot, Liam. Apple has taken e-waste recycling to a whole new level by creating a line of robots named Liam to dismantle the old Apple devices, thereby re-using their high quality parts. This in turn reduces the need to mine the resources needed to create new components from the earth.

An estimated 2.4 million devices a year can be dismantled by two Liams. With this new and inspiring technology, Apple hopes to inspire others in the market to come up with something similar for e-waste management.

Credit: BicycleanAnother innovation that operates on a smaller scale is Bicyclean, an affordable means of recycling e-waste in developing countries.

Bicyclean was designed by Rachel Field, a Harvard undergraduate who empathized with natives in Ghana who labored tirelessly with e-waste management and decided to make their job easier and safer.

Bicyclean is a pedal powered grindstone that can simultaneously crush electronics and collect their dust in a sealed polycarbonate enclosure. The design offers a simple means of helping those who bare-handedly work with the toxic substances emitted by e-waste, on a daily basis.

The global technology service provider CloudBlue has more easy solutions for our electronic disposal needs. Their go-to e-Waste Recycling Service helps dispose of our unused electronic devices by ensuring that they end up in the right hands, where they will either be reused or recycled properly.

CloudBlue handles the entire redeployment process, from collecting devices up until delivery, and also ensures that the equipment is tested, repaired or even upgraded, if needed. CloudBlue can also donate gadgets to a charitable organization of the customer’s choosing.

For end-of-life electronics and computers, consider consulting Sims Recycling Solutions, a network of globally certified facilities that manage the responsible reuse and recycling of such devices. Their programs ensure responsible administration of all electronic equipment and minimize greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

All of these new technologies and services work towards the betterment of the environment by providing effective e-waste management strategies -- which is the exact intent of LEED’s Storage and collection of recyclables credit. To explore more safe storage and recycling programs, check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s universal waste page.


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