Frequently Asked Questions: E-Waste

Q. What is e-waste?
A. E-waste refers to electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life", for example, computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines. Many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled.

Q. What do we do with e-waste?
A. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce your generation of e-waste through smart procurement and good maintenance. Reuse still-functioning electronic equipment by donating or selling it to someone. Recycle those components that cannot be repaired. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals, that can be recycled.

Q. What is the Electronic Waste Recycling Act?
A. In 2003, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act established a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain electronic wastes. Key elements of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 include the collection of an electronic waste recycling fee at the retail point of sale of covered products and requirements on manufacturers to provide consumer information regarding recycling opportunities. The intent of this program is to make recycling options for consumers more convenient so products containing toxic compounds are disposed of appropriately. For more information on this law and its implementation, please see http://http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Electronics/.

Beginning in 2005, an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee will be assessed on certain "covered" electronic devices sold in California. "Covered" devices include most video display products, such as computer monitors and televisions. The fee will be collected at the time of retail sale, including Internet and catalog sales, to California consumers and is not reimbursable to consumers.

Q. What is the 2006 Universal Waste Law?
A. After February 2006, it is illegal for residents and small businesses to dispose of fluorescent lamps, household batteries, and other “Universal Waste” in the trash. Under the law , “Universal Waste” is defined as batteries, mercury thermostats, fluorescent lights, cathode ray tube devices (computer monitors, televisions), mercury thermometers, and other products containing mercury or other heavy metals. This list includes:

  • Electronic devices, such as televisions and computer monitors, computers, printers, VCRs, cell phones, telephones, radios, and microwave ovens. These devices often contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, copper, and chromium.
  • Electrical switches and Relays typically contain about 3.5 grams of mercury each. Mercury switches can be found in some chest freezers, pre-1972 washing machines, sump pumps, electric space heaters, clothes irons, silent light switches, automobile hood and trunk lights, and ABS brakes.
  • Pilot light sensors – Mercury-containing switches found in some gas appliances, such as stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces and space heaters.
  • Mercury added novelties - Includes greeting cards that play music when opened, athletic shoes (made before 1997) with flashing lights in soles, and mercury maze games.

For a complete list and more details, please visit the Department of Toxic Substance Control website, or see our Frequently Asked Household Hazardous Waste Questions.

Q. Are cathode ray tubes are hazardous waste?
A. Computer monitors and televisions with Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) have been deemed hazardous waste by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control and, therefore, cannot be disposed of in a landfill. Each CRT contains 5 to 7 pounds of lead, as well as cadmium, silver, gold, and other heavy metals and toxic compounds. Lab studies have shown the potential for these compounds and elements to leach out of the computer equipment into the landfill’s outflow and cause groundwater contamination.

Q. What is banned from the landfill?
A. Almost any product with a circuit board is now banned from the landfill and considered universal waste and, as such, requires special handling. Like used motor oil and paint, universal waste is a kind of hazardous waste. It is illegal to dispose of hazardous waste in the garbage. These products contain toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. Mercury, released into the environment through the improper disposal of mercury-containing products, is a known neurotoxin.

Q. How do I recycle and dispose of electronic scrap?
A. Since electronic waste is subject to California’s hazardous waste regulations, it must be reused, recycled, or disposed of properly. Please do not put these items in the garbage or curbside recycling bins. A complete list of universal waste products and information about disposal and recycling options, is available on the DTSC website at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/UniversalWaste/index.cfm.

Q. What are the procedures for University Departments to recycle electronic scrap and equipment?
A. If you are a department on campus, you can place calculators, CDs, cellphones, PDAs, telephones, wireless devices, empty printer/toner cartridges, and other e-waste in the green Electronic Devices buckets (for more information and locations click here). Computers that are old or not working properly, should be processed through Property Management Office (PMO) using the NEW Online Property Excess procedures for Capital as well as NON- Capital equipment. The SU 13 form is NO longer being used for disposal of Electronic Scrap. Please contact your Department Property Administrator for further disposal. If you don't know your Department Property person, please contact Manuel George @ 3-2246. PMO and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety contract with an electronic recycling vendor who they regularly audit. This vendor signed the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition "Electronics Recycler Pledge" stating that wastes are not being shipped overseas.

Q. What are the procedures for Campus Residents and community to recycle electronic scrap and equipment?
A. Residential customers, students, and community members may bring their computer monitors, televisions, laptop computers, and plasma screens to PSSI at 339 Bonair Siding, during regular business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm (phone: 321-4236 or recycling@pssi.stanford.edu). Please do not leave them at the Stanford Recycling Drop-Off Center. It will be considered abandoned waste and will cost us to recycle and handle properly. We are able to accept these items in our office free of charge because of California’s new Electronic Waste Law (2005). The Law requires the consumer to declare that the item was purchased and used in California. To make this declaration, you, the consumer, must provide your name and physical address (P.O. Boxes not acceptable) for a State of California form in our office. Since the recycling of these items is funded through the State, the State must ensure that it is funding recycling by California residents and businesses.

Other options include:

Q. How do I dispose of my computer, television or other electronic items?
A. Disposing of anything as a hazardous waste is an expensive option, but cannot be avoided if a monitor or television is physically cracked or the glass is broken. If the computer or television is in good physical shape, but it is not working electronically or it is too slow, then it can be sent to various companies and non-profits for reuse or recycling. CRT containing products that are donated for continued use are not identified as hazardous waste. PSSI accepts CRT containing products that are dropped off at their office or will charge a small fee to pick up.

Q. Where can I find computer manufacturer's exchanges, takebacks, and recycling information?
A. Below are a few manufacturers of electronics that have taken the lead to take back their old equipment and/or be involved in the reuse and recycling of their equipment.

Q. Where can I find additional information?
A. The following websites have more information on this subject: Electronics Recycling Law (2003) Information Page - http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Electronics/
Department Toxic Substance Control - http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/EWaste/index.cfm
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/wastewise/wrr/updates.htm