Dear EarthTalk: I work for an office equipment company selling copiers, fax machines, computers and printers. Each year new models come out making old ones obsolete. As a result, we have loads of trade-ins with nowhere to go. What can we do with this old equipment?
—Jeff P., Worcester, MA
Electronic waste, or “e-waste” as it’s called, is a growing problem in the United States and abroad, as obsolete or broken computers and other electronic equipment are taking up increasingly precious amounts of landfill space and potentially leaking hazardous substances into surrounding ecosystems.
The nonprofit Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition reports that 70 percent of the heavy metals in U.S. landfills are from discarded electronics—even though the e-waste itself accounts for only two percent of the trash by volume. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans trash two million tons of unwanted electronics each year—six times the amount they recycle. To make matters worse, U.S. companies often ship old equipment to poor nations whose landfills and incinerators are ill equipped, subjecting already struggling populations to lead, cadmium, beryllium, and other contaminants.
So what can be done? If your old units still work but have merely been eclipsed by newer models, then by all means donate them to a needy cause that will either put them to good use or resell them to help fund their programs. You”ll earn a tax deduction for a charitable donation and, by keeping the equipment alive, prevent the manufacture of new units and thus, if ever so slightly, reduce the footprint of your operations.