On electronics recycling or reusing

I’ve accumulated four bad or otherwise worthless hard disk drives. Recently I made a Fedora 19 install on an old PC and about a month later started getting S.M.A.R.T. errors, so I yanked it out just now. I looked at it and it’s an 80GB parallel drive from Maxtor. I’m pretty sure Maxtor doesn’t exist anymore. I’m also pretty sure modern computers can’t use parallel drives. I’m also pretty sure hard disk drives no longer come in 80GB. The smallest I saw at Best Buy (whose hard drives were mysteriously low-priced) the other day was 500GB or maybe 320GB. Of course more expensive SSDs still come in smaller sizes.

I’m thinking about how and where I should dispose of these drives. When I googled “where to recycle e-waste” one the websites that came up suggested always trying to repair electronics rather than dispose of them, and this of course got my gears going, because I’m now trying to do a calculation in my head about what is actually more environmentally friendly.

If I get an old CRT monitor repaired, for example, instead of replacing it, then my carbon footprint is going to be (for argument’s sake) 5x as high as if I replace it with a more modern display. (LED and LCD displays are much more energy efficient). If I throw it in the trash, then I’m introducing mostly copper and fiberglass and plastic, but also small amounts of heavy metals, into the environment. What is worse? Producing 5x as much carbon as I would be for the next couple of years, or introducing a bit of heavy metals as a one time thing? Sometimes I wonder if whoever is writing the pro-reuse educational materials have actually made this calculation. Of course, if our electrical grid produced less carbon-per-kilowatt, then the point at which reusing is worse than buying a new one would shift.

I’d like to reexamine this problem with actual numbers, and also reexamine it with the criterion being actual monetary cost to the consumer rather than cost in damage to the environment.

Even if one were to make the calculation and decide that heavy metals are a worse problem, when taken in a vacuum, what if our global carbon-production problems are closer to reaching a tipping point than our global heavy metal pollution problems?

Anyway, this is what I’ve been thinking about. I haven’t made the calculation with real numbers, but to be honest my hypothesis is that we would be better off in the long run if everyone dumped every CRT television or monitor into the ocean immediately–for the environment’s sake. Of course, recycling them properly would be even better. ;)

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6 Responses to “On electronics recycling or reusing”

  1. 0hmyword Says:

    You should take a read of this article: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/story?id=8215714

    (Sorry it isn’t a link (if it isn’t) I’m using the mobile app)

    Where a vast majority of E-waste, electronics waste, ends up is in African countries where children are left to salvage copper wire. It’s unhealthy work & the money they make isn’t enough to allow them to stop, nor to deter them from returning.

    Here in oz, we’re lucky enough to have many outlets available for the safe disposal of E-waste. I’d say that keeping the monitor is probably safest at the moment…but E-waste is definitely a problem. ‘Least you’re considering your options before simply “chucking” it towards the problem.

    • Walker Says:

      Oh hi!

      Yikes, that article is terrifying. This is kind of exactly what I mean though–if I bury a TV in my backyard, I might be doing less harm than if I donate it to a recycler who just ends up selling it overseas…

      Ugh, I feel like every option here is terrible.

  2. heidenkind Says:

    Around here, there are electronic recycling centers, but YOU have to pay THEM to take your stuff. Which is bonkers.

  3. thecuriousbum Says:

    Yeah, this is one of those things. My brain’s kinda torched though so I don’t have anything useful to say about it.

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