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12.15.2013 2:00 AM

Electronics Waste Will Soon Weigh as Much as 8 Egyptian Pyramids

The average U.S. resident tosses 66 pounds of e-waste each year.

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Photo: Robert Davies / Istock

By Dan Shapley

The average U.S. resident generates 66 pounds of electronics waste per year, according to a new United Nations analysis, just slightly less than the 70 pounds per capita we add to our lives each year.

And the problem isn't getting any smaller. By 2017, the UN estimates, world volumes of end-of-life e-products is expected to be 33% higher than 2012 and weigh the equivalent of eight Great Egyptian Pyramids.

Much of that e-waste, as it is known, is generated around the holidays, when new devices are delivered with bright red bows, and the old are discarded. Recycling e-waste properly is important because the electronics often contain toxic heavy metals that should be kept from landfills or incinerators to avoid pollution, and because many components are valuable and can be reused.

The U.N. report includes a first-of-its-kind map, which invites you to compare the electronics consumed and discarded, by country, as well as regulations down to the state level that govern the use and disposal of electronics.

Worldwide in 2010, the year of data analyzed by the UN, about two-thirds of the used electronics generated were collected for reuse or recycling. Measured by weight, the number is slightly less optimistic, with about 56% of the 1.6 million tons of used electronics collected for reuse and recycling, suggesting that heavier items, like computer monitors and televisions are being recycled less frequently than mobile phones.

In the U.S. mobile phones account for the largest quantity of used electronics, but TVs are the heaviest flow of generated and collected used electronics, while computer monitors are the most massive exports. Most is destined for disposal or recycling in North America or Latin America.

Look for opportunities to recycle e-waste in your community. First, check with your local waste hauler for options, and watch for publicized "hazardous household waste" disposal days, when you can deliver (usually for free) electronics along with other household chemicals that may be toxic. Also pay attention to offers by retailers and manufacturers and take advantage of take-back programs for safely recycling e-waste.


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