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E-Waste Piles Up

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is the fastest growing portion of the broadening stream of American garbage, and it is surging at a rate of around eight percent a year.

Here are some things you might not know about the effects of e-waste on you, your family and the environment:

Electronics contain toxins. Monitors and televisions made with tubes have between four and eight pounds of lead in them. Most later-model flat panel monitors and TVs contain less lead, but more mercury. In the United States alone, an estimated 70 percent of heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronics.

Recycling rates are low. Between 20 and 50 million metric tons of e-waste are disposed of worldwide each year, yet only some 13 percent of consumer electronics entering the municipal waste stream in 2008 were recovered for recycling.

The lifespan of the household computer is diminishing. The average lifespan of computers purchased in developing countries dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005.

The problem is more severe in developing countries. Inconsistent legislation and a lack of controls and enforcement have resulted in widespread e-waste dumping. And if e-dumping is not managed properly, toxic materials can be released, which poses a threat to human health as well as to the environment. Refurbishing old electronics might be energy efficient, but only two percent of computers find their way to a second user.

Before you throw your old electronics in the dumpster, check your town's municipal waste facility to find out when -- or if -- they accept e-waste. Many towns now designate region-wide e-waste collection days several times per year.

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