The average life span of today's computers is less than 3 years. This means companies all over the world have to regularly update their computer equipment to keep up with changing technology. A shortened life span, along with the throw away nature of consumer electronics, has made e-waste the fastest growing source of waste in North America.
What happens to electronics that have reached the end of their useful life? Unfortunately, the majority ends up in landfills all over the world; and often in developing countries. E-waste contains metals such as lead and mercury, which do not decompose, and can leach into the soil and water, posing a threat to both the environment and our health.
Fortunately, most components of e-waste, such as glass, plastics and metals, can be safely dismantled, separated and recycled as raw material to make new consumer and industrial goods. All done without harming your health or the environment.
The following 4 terms are often used interchangeably, but in reality have important nuances which separate and define them.
- Reducing - This is the first step in the quest for sustainable living. By using and consuming less, everyone contributes to diminishing waste that ends up in landfills.
- Reusing - Instead of throwing something away, we can often use it for a different function or even give it to someone else.
- Reclaiming - This involves using existing material to produce something new without going through further processing. For example, using the cloth from second-hand clothing to make new clothes.
- Recycling - Recycling occurs when a product has reached the end of its useful life span. Its basic components can then be melted or ground into raw material and used to make new products.
"Recycling" is sometimes used as a general term to describe any method that prevents something from being thrown away, when in fact it refers to a very specific process.