A few years ago, the digital conversion of television began a
flood of unwanted tube-based TV sets.
More recently, the mass adoption of mobile smartphones has relegated millions of older cellphones to junk drawers or the junkyard.
In Arizona, there's nothing illegal about dumping such items in the trash, though at least half the states have passed laws regulating electronic waste.
But you can help protect the environment - and in some cases help the less fortunate - by recycling your obsolete electronics.
Modern electronics carry a rogue's list of potentially hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, chromium and brominated flame retardants.
But only 27 percent of discarded consumer electronics was recycled in 2010, the most recent year for which the Environmental Protection Agency has data.
One of the biggest problems today are cathode-ray tube TV sets, which contain toxins including several pounds of lead in their glass but are costly to recycle. An estimated 83 percent of the 28 million TVs disposed of in 2010 were trashed rather than recycled, according to the EPA.
Many places that recycle computers and other electronics for scrap don't take tube TV sets - particularly those over 32 inches in screen size - and those that do generally charge a fee.
And it's getting harder to find a place to recycle an old TV, fee or not.
"A lot of places won't even take them, especially the large screens with the big cabinets," said Ruben Vejar, general manager of the nonprofit Rise Equipment Recycling Center.
For example, retail giant Best Buy has an extensive recycling program but won't take tube TV sets with screens bigger than 32 inches.
The Rise center takes all kinds of TVs, charging $10 each to help cover the cost of recycling.
While it's legal to throw a TV set in the trash, the city discourages it and works with Rise to recycle them, said Andrew Quigley, assistant city manager.
Besides refurbishing and recycling electronics, Rise provides vocational rehabilitation training and employment to clients of its parent nonprofit, COPE Community Services, which provides services for people with substance-abuse problems, mental illness or other behavioral or health issues.
Vejar said Rise refurbishes computers with Pentium 4 processors or better, with multi-core processors, and recycles the rest using a certified Arizona recycling firm. Computer hard drives are wiped clean of data following a Defense Department secure standard, Vejar said.
Though the volume of flat-panel TVs discarded is much lower than old cathode-ray tube sets, they can also be hazardous and should be recycled properly, experts say.
For example, most liquid-crystal display sets are illuminated by mercury lamps; plasma TVs don't use such lamps but may contain mercury, lead and other toxic substances.
The smartphone revolution has helped create a tsunami of unwanted basic cellphones, and only 11 percent of the estimated 152 million phones discarded in 2010 were recycled, the EPA says.
Most wireless phone carriers will take old phones for reuse or recycling, but you can also donate them to charities, such as a domestic-violence center like Emerge! in Tucson, which give them to
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