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Not recycling electronics can expose environment to toxic chemicals like lead and mercury

Published: Dec. 7, 2020 at 4:19 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Electronics including small appliances, computers, computer accessories, and cell phones contain harmful components that can leach into the environment when thrown away, instead of being properly recycled.

“Electronic waste is a problem because every year we have more and more computers going out on the market - and with new computers, it means that people are upgrading or their old ones, [or things] break and need to be gotten rid of. When they’re put into a landfill , anything harmful in them can leach into the groundwater and the environment, and also into the air as they break down,” said Sarah Marshall, Administrative Assistant for Green Star of Interior Alaska.

Some of the components are not only harmful to the environment, but also to people. Marshall warned, “Some of the things electronics contain are lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, [and] flame retardants. These are all things that affect human bodies at a cellular level and some of them compound over time in our bodies. The best thing we can do is try to avoid getting those things into our environment.”

Along with preventing harmful components from escaping, recycling means valuable components can be harvested and reused in new computers, including gold and copper.

“There are lots of harmful components, but there are also components that can be reclaimed and reused, and thus not needing to be mined newly again. That is a big component of why things are recycled - not only because they have toxic materials in them, but also so that things can be reused instead of mined or reclaimed from the earth,” said Marshall.

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