Electronic waste (or e-waste) includes any used, unwanted electrical or electronic devices. Though most e-waste can be recycled or reused in some way, e-waste currently makes up around 70% of the toxic waste found in dumps.
Tufts complies with Massachusetts regulation of e-waste, which bans large electronic appliances from landfills. Tufts also partners with Allied Computer Brokers, Inc. to recycle all kinds of e-waste and electronic media, including small electronic or battery-powered devices, cell phones, charges and cables ("anything with a cord") and computer parts.
These can be placed in e-waste bins located around campus in Medford, Boston, and Grafton. Find e-waste locations for all Tufts campuses on the Tufts Eco-Map. If you are a Tufts faculty or staff member and you have electronic devices which need to be recycled, please fill out a work order to have them picked up.
Additionally, you can recycle your electronics through the manufacturer or retailer. Click below for more detailed information:
Electronic devices contain extremely hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, and cadmium. These chemicals can leach into the soil when they're disposed of in landfills, impacting the health of plants and animals and leading to respiratory problems in humans when inhaled. Most e-waste produced in the U.S. ends up landfills and dumps in developing countries, particularly in China, India, and Ghana. Some of the e-waste that ends up in these countries is exported illegally from Europe in the U.S.
A Chinese child sits in an e-waste dump. Via Greenpeace.org
Greenpeace reports that unprotected workers, many of them children, dismantle computers and TVs in order to obtain the metals that can be sold. The remaining materials are then burnt or dumped, and some of these materials contain toxic metals, including lead, in fatally high quantities. Many of the chemicals and metals are known to harm sexual reproduction and to cause cancer.
LEDs, CFLs and Incandescents: What’s the Difference?
All three of Tufts’ campuses use a combination of light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CLFs) and incandescent light bulbs. Each of these bulbs uses different levels of energy and require different recycling processes. Here’s a basic breakdown of these differences:
LED Light Bulbs
About: The majority of the new bulbs installed around campus are LED bulbs. According to Betsy Isenstein, the interim Recycling Coordinator at Tufts Recycles, LED bulbs are generally more energy-efficient than CFLs, and always more efficient than incandescent bulbs. They also produce a better quality of light, can be dimmed/adjusted easily and last for a long time–25,000 hours, or three hours a day for 22.8 years! On the other hand, these bulbs are directional, which means they work better in lights under cabinetry than in table lamps.
Recycling: LED bulbs are recycled at Tufts with our e-waste by Next Level Recycling (NLR), a company based in Windsor, CT. Brian Watson, the Senior Sale Professional at NLR, said the company picks up the bulbs, transports them to the facility and processes them through a shing, which is a machine that’s specifically made for recycling bulbs. “[The shing] separates all the materials out so they can be reused,” he said. “Then we send the constituent parts to downstream vendors that will reuse them for a new product, so the bulbs are 100% recyclable.”
About: CFLs are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, although less efficient than LEDs. For this reason, we recommend using LED bulbs instead. CLFs also contain mercury, which means that if a bulb breaks, it may be necessary to ventilate the area so that the toxic mercury fumes are not inhaled. On the other hand, CFL bulbs can be placed in standard light sockets and don’t require an adapter, and they are cheaper to purchase initially than LEDs.
Though fluorescent light bulbs and tubes have mercury in them, they actually help reduce mercury emissions from power plants. This is because a substantial part of the electricity in Massachusetts is made by burning coal, a process that releases mercury. Because fluorescent lamps use so much less electricity, the mercury that is in them is actually less than what would have been released from the coal power plant if regular bulbs had been used.
Recycling: CFLs must be recycled as “universal waste” since they have mercury. NLR collects these bulbs from all three of Tufts’ campuses, too, as throwing them away can be dangerous due to the mercury. Virtually all parts of any type of fluorescent bulb can be recycled, although Brian said there are “a lot of issues that go into storing universal waste.”
Incandescent Light Bulbs
As of 2013, these are no longer distributed or authorized on any of Tufts’ campuses. When Tufts does dispose of an old incandescent bulb, NLR will recycle them. “It’s better to recycle [incandescent bulbs] in order to reclaim the metal and glass and divert it from the landfills,” Brian said. These bulbs only last between 1,000 and 2,000 hours. Additionally, more than 90% of the energy produced by incandescent lights appears in the form of heat, rather than light, which means that 90% of the energy from these bulbs is ultimately wasted!
Stop buying incandescent bulbs! They are environmentally and economically inefficient.
Distribution of Bulbs on Campus Some locations on campus are more suited to CFLs, while other locations are more suited to LEDs. Betsy Isenstein said Tufts first started experimenting with LEDs seven or eight years ago, installing them in the top floor of Dowling Hall and in the Dowling parking garage. “Since then, we’ve installed LEDs in tons of places,” she said. “Hogdgon Hall’s common spaces are all LED lighting and all of the post top lights are LED, except for the ones around Sophia Gordon Hall.”
Betsy explained that LEDs have become more cost-effective at Tufts, especially because of LED utility incentive programs that are in place, but the technology of LEDs is still evolving. “Over time, we’ll be moving toward LED bulbs, but right now it’s going to depend on the type of fixture and the operating hours of the fixture,” she said. “If it’s a bulb that’s hard to change, it’ll be an LED because it will be there for a while.”
How to recycle light bulbs? If you have a light bulb in need of recycling, please contact us for pickup. Students can also exchange their old incandescent bulbs for a free CFL at the Office of Sustainability, and students in residence halls can request a LED bulb from their eco-rep.
These popular chain retailers will take your used CFLs at no cost: Ace Hardware The Home Depot Ikea True Value Hardware Whole Foods Market
Battery recycling locations for all Tufts Campuses can be found on the eco-map (zoom to your campus and look for the E-waste Recycling icons)
Don’t forget to tape up the ends of your batteries in order to prevent fire hazards.
Why Recycle Batteries?
Batteries require much more energy during production than they are able to store. In addition, batteries are hard to recycle. It is best to use rechargeable batteries or, even better, to try not to use batteries at all! A battery tester can help determine if your batteries are completely spent. A tester would be particularly useful for offices or student organizations that use lots of batteries.
Heavy Metals in Batteries Each year billions of used batteries are thrown away in the United States. This constitutes 88% of the mercury and 54% of the cadmium deposited in our landfills.
Batteries contain lead, mercury, and cadmium, with smaller amounts of antimony, lithium, cobalt, silver, zinc and other chemicals. Some of these chemicals can cause serious pollution problems. Cadmium, for example, does not degrade and cannot be destroyed. Unless it is deposited in secure waste disposal sites, it can get into the food chain, where it affects all environmental sectors and can damage livers, kidneys, and the brains of humans and fish.
Mercury, too, cannot be destroyed; it contaminates by inhalation or skin contact and lodges in the kidneys and liver. Lead leads to brain damage, hemolysis, lowered resistance to infection and cancer of the lungs and kidneys.
There are well-established systems for reclaiming lead-acid batteries, although many lead-acid batteries are still finding their way into the domestic garbage collections. Dry cell batteries (the ones you think of when you hear the word battery) make up the rest of the domestic market. They are more numerous and varied, and have a complex make-up. Batteries are manufactured by such a wide range of companies and come in so many shapes and colors that sorting them for effective collection and recycling schemes remains a problem.
Types of Disposable Batteries
Alkaline manganese: Most commonly used batteries in the US. Used in most electronic devices.
Lead acid: Used in some electronic devices and large applications.
Lithium-ion: Most common type of recyclable batteries. Used in some electronic devices, laptops, and cellular phones.
Nickel-cadmium: Used in radios, video cameras, and power tools. Contains toxic metals which must be specially recycled.
Nickel-metal hydride: Used in laptops and cellular phones.
Zinc-carbon: Includes button cells. Found in calculators and watches.
If you need to use batteries, use rechargeable ones. Even better is avoiding batteries altogether.
At Tufts, all types of batteries are recyclable in battery drop bins located around campus. Alkaline batteries are technically safe to trash, but we maintain an alkaline battery recycling program to keep them out of landfills. In some countries such as Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, batteries are collected separately from other domestic refuse and are disposed of as hazardous waste. In spite of various nickel-cadmium battery recycling laws in Sweden and Switzerland, and collection schemes in Germany, Holland, and parts of the USA, there are still very few reprocessing facilities.
Have you ever upgraded your fitness tracker and wondered what to do with the old one? Wearable electronics are produced in enormous quantities and are quickly discarded when newer models become available. This poses environmental problems, as electronics contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials that should not be sent to landfills. RecycleHealth offers an innovative solution to this issue.
RecycleHealth is a charity founded by Lisa Gualtieri, an assistant professor at the at Tufts School of Medicine. The program receives used donations of all brands of activity tracking devices, such as Fitbits, Jawbones, or even Apple Watches. They then distribute the devices to underserved populations, with the goal of empowering more people to lead active lifestyles. RecycleHealth also conducts survey research on the efficacy of fitness trackers, to better understand their effect on users’ activity levels.
Next time you find yourself stuck with an unwanted fitness tracker, consider donating it to RecycleHealth. Not only does this keep hazardous electronic waste out of landfills – it also extends the useful life of your old devices, and contributes to research!