In recent years, there has been a worldwide push for companies and consumers alike to go green. But to most this means buying reusable shopping bags, recycling paper, plastic and aluminum materials, responsible disposing of toxic waste, and lowering emissions of greenhouse gasses. All of these activities are important for creating a greener world, but there’s a 73 million ton elephant lurking in the “green” room: e-waste.


A recent Pike Research survey of Americans found that the average consumer has 2.8 pieces of unused, broken or obsolete electronics equipment in his/her possession. And, Pike Research reports that by 2010, the amount of e-waste entering landfills will reach 73 million metric tons. To put that into perspective, 73 million metric tons is equivalent to the weight of 1.8 million eighteen wheelers or 18.25 million adult female elephants.


The good news? The awareness of e-waste and its threat to the environment is rising. The Pike Research survey also found that 76 percent of consumers recognize recycling is the most effective way to handle e-waste.


An Airfoil client, Paragon Green, is one of the leading IT asset recovery and e-waste recyclers in the country. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour their warehouse facilities where they collect and sort an estimated 50 million pounds of e-waste for recycling each year. It was only when I saw their warehouse packed with keyboards, computer mice, computers, monitors, televisions, printers and copiers being processed that I fully realized the seriousness of the issue.


The global e-waste crisis is more than the volume. Hazardous e-waste is a big cause for alarm, particularly the lead-based glass found in cathode ray tubes (CRT) of televisions and computer monitors. CRTs cannot simply be dumped in landfills. Working CRTs are most often reused, but broken ones must go through glass-to-glass processing. E-waste also emits greenhouse gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that 1 million computers release an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases to that of more than 17,000 cars. According to the Computer Industry Almanac, Inc., in 2008 the U.S. had 264.1 million personal computers in use.


There is a lot to be done to solve the global e-waste crisis. Legislation and regulations must be put into place by governments to drive the responsible handling of end-of-life electronics equipment. Companies and consumers must also take an active role by recycling their electronics equipment responsibly. So, before you simply toss your old cell phone or outdated computer in the trash, be greener by finding a local electronics collection event in your local area.


— Jennifer Wilt