When your batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), or computer equipment stop working, do you toss them in the garbage? Your first inclination might be to throw items like this away, but doing so has some serious consequences.Environmental and Health Risks
All three of these product types contain hazardous materials, which when thrown away or mishandled can have a negative effect on the environment and even pose health risks for people who come in contact with them. Batteries, both single use and rechargeable, contain heavy metals. Dry-cell batteries may have a variety of materials, including alkaline, carbon zinc, mercuric-oxide, silver-oxide, zinc-air, and lithium. On average, each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell batteries per year, which can leak into soil and water supplies if they are not disposed of properly.
CFLs contain mercury—between 3.5 and 15 milligrams each. The Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) estimates that about 11 percent of the mercury contained inside each CFL is released into the air or water when it is sent to a landfill, assuming the bulb is broken, which most likely happens when the bulb is dumped into a truck or shoved into a landfill. The EPA calculates that if all 272 million CFLs sold in 2009 were sent to a landfill (versus recycled), they would add 0.12 metric tons, or 0.12 percent, to U.S. mercury emissions caused by humans.
Computer equipment, or e-waste, contains hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and silver. According to the EPA, in 2009, discarded TVs, computers, printers, scanners, fax machines, mice, keyboards, and cell phones totaled about 2.37 million short tons.Options for Businesses
The environmental impact of throwing away waste containing hazardous material is clear, but if the negative health effects aren’t convincing enough, a growing number of state and local laws make it illegal to dump products containing hazardous materials into the garbage, and businesses can incur fines for improper disposal. What is the solution to protecting the environment and your business from being hit with fines? Recycling.
About half of all states have recycling laws, and other states are planning similar laws. Laws vary by state and local region, as do the fines. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
(RCRA) regulations require many businesses to recycle mercury-containing bulbs. In addition to keeping toxic materials out of landfills and avoiding fines, recycling conserves natural resources. Glass, metals, and other materials from CFLs and fluorescent bulbs can be recycled and reused to make new bulbs. Just about every component, including metal end caps, glass tubing, and phosphor powder, can be separated and recycled. The mercury is recovered as well and used in new fluorescent bulbs and other mercury-containing devices.Positive Impacts
Similarly, valuable materials can be recovered from old electronics and reused in new products. More than 90% of electronic equipment is recyclable. Precious metals are reused in new computer circuit boards while glass and plastics are used to make new TV and computer monitors. Not all computer equipment has to be broken down for parts. Working equipment can be donated to schools, low-income families, and nonprofit agencies that would otherwise not be able to afford it. Before throwing out your equipment, check with charity groups or local organizations to see if they may have use for it.
Recycling also has a positive economic impact as it creates local jobs. As demand for electronics recycling grows, new businesses will be forming and existing companies will be looking to hire more people to staff their facilities to recover recyclable materials. These recycling centers will become valuable resources for businesses that need to manage their bulbs, batteries, and computer equipment.How to Recycle
In addition to recycling centers sprouting up, a growing number of communities are sponsoring recycling events. However, these free drop-off events often accept consumer products only. There are often solutions available to help businesses meet their recycling needs. One solution is preaddressed, postage prepaid recycling containers from Veolia. These kits allow businesses to conveniently dispose of light bulbs, batteries, and computer equipment and avoid incurring fines. The price of the kit also includes a recycling certification that can be displayed in your office.
Has your property started a recycling plan for batteries, lighting, or computer equipment? If so, how much have you recycled so far?