UW News

November 8, 2012

UW electronics-recycling pledge: Prevent harm to people, environment

UW Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability

The University of Washington has become the first university nationally to sign the e-Stewards Enterprise Commitment, a pledge to be globally responsible in recycling electronic equipment.

The UW, which collects and recycles more than 90 tons of used electronic equipment a year, already uses a recycler that is e-Stewards certified. Signing the agreement formalizes the university’s commitment to that practice, according to Emily Newcomer, UW recycling manager.

Pile of no longer needed cell phones for recycling

Cell phones on the way to recycling.UW Recycling

“Electronic devices are big a part of our lives,” she said. “TVs, computers, printers, cell phones and others are all recyclable, but they have to be recycled responsibly.”

Many electronic devices contain substances such as lead, chromium and mercury – compounds that are toxic to humans and the environment. The substances are not considered hazardous to users because they are well contained within the devices. When devices are recycled, however, they are broken apart to prepare materials for reuse and these substances can present a significant hazard to recycling factory workers if not handled appropriately.

To maximize profits, some recyclers export electronics to developing countries where laborers may work under unsafe, unregulated conditions.

The e-Stewards certification, developed by the Basel Action Network, seeks to hold electronics recycling companies accountable through a certification process that sets standards of environmental responsibility and worker protection.