If only Santa’s magical sleigh arrived with a recycling collector in tow, it might help reduce the additional 25 million tons of garbage that Americans throw away during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period, of which electronics are a growing segment.
Electronic devices are the fastest-growing component of the municipal solid waste stream. The average American household owns about 24 electronic gadgets, and the EPA estimates that U.S. consumers and businesses discard 2.37 million tons of televisions, computers, cellphones and copy equipment (such as printers, scanners, faxes) each year.
Children’s literature enchants us to believe that when a toy is thrown away, the “away” might be the Land of Misfit Toys (or electronics) or into the comforting arms of a magic fairy. However, in reality, most discarded electronic “toys” end up in landfills. Used electronics are also shipped to developing countries that lack the capacity to reject imports or to handle these materials appropriately, according to the EPA.
Many electronic devices are considered hazardous waste because they contain toxic heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, and hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. PVC plastic is also frequently used. Once discarded, these toxic chemicals are able to leach into the land and water over time and are released into the atmosphere, impacting both the environment and human health.
Today, consumers have many options for recycling or donating their used electronics. Many recycling centers now accept electronic devices in addition to mixed paper, cardboard, plastics, aluminum, steel and glass.
The key, said Justin Holland, sanitation manager for the city of Chattanooga, is knowing what items can be recycled and where to take them.
“The city of Chattanooga makes it easy to recycle, but you just have to know where to go to recycle an item or donate it,” Holland said. “People also have to get in the habit of recycling and donating items instead of throwing them away.”
Look for a logo on your Christmas treasures—or Christmas trash—depicting a garbage can with an “X,” which means an item can be recycled and should not be discarded in municipal garbage. Then, check out some of the following recycling centers in the Chattanooga area that accept electronics and other recyclables.
The city of Chattanooga operates recycling centers at the following locations: 5955 Brainerd Road, 1250 E. Third St., 3202 Kellys Ferry Road, 8004 Batters Place Road and 4500 N. Access Road. City of Chattanooga recycling centers accept televisions and flat-screen computer monitors. They do not, however, accept CRT computer monitors.
Hamilton County operates recycling centers at the following locations: 5414 Highway 58 in Chattanooga, 1600 Crabtree Road in Hixson, 4851-B Dayton Blvd. in Red Bank, 7625 Standifer Gap Road in Chattanooga and 9525 Lovell Road in Soddy-Daisy. Hamilton County recycling centers accept computer monitors, small household appliances, office/cell/fax phones, DVD/VCR players, stereos and radios.
The John F. Germ Recycling Center at Orange Grove, located at 460 Dodson Ave. in Chattanooga, accepts computers and computer monitors, phones, stereos and radios, DVD/VCR players, and other small household appliances on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is free to dispose of all items except computer monitors, which require a $10 drop-off fee. For more information, visit their website or call 423-308-1170.
The Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility, located at 3925 Hawthorne St. in Chattanooga, helps to keep household hazardous waste out of the normal waste stream, where it is harmful to the environment.
Open to residents of Chattanooga and Hamilton County on the second Saturday of each month from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility accepts CRT computer monitors, paint, insecticides, pool chemicals, small electronics (cellphones, DVD players, printers, gaming systems, remotes, telephones, speaker systems, microwaves, coffee makers, etc.), cleaners, oil-based paints, fire extinguishers, refrigerants, paint removers and more. For more information, visit their website or call the city of Chattanooga's help line at 311. If calling from a cellphone, dial 423-425-6311.
Many computer, television and cellphone manufacturers, as well as electronics retailers, offer take-back programs and recycling programs. Look for electronic recyclers certified through EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge, which promotes responsible recycling practices.
This Christmas, take a moment to consider the fate of your old electronic devices, as well as the land and communities that their disposal may impact. With a little strategic planning, Santa’s sleigh can become a bit more sustainable with a plan for recycling the old when receiving the new.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal enjoys writing about the natural world and the people who work to protect it. This Christmas, she is asking Santa for a book publishing deal and some new Chaco sandals. Visit her blog at YourOutdoorFamily.com.