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Dispose of Electronic Devices Properly

Many electronic devices contain hazardous material, so they should be disposed of properly.

Our increasing dependence on electronic devices means we need to be more aware of their effect on our environment when we replace them, says Carl Pedersen, North Dakota State University Extension Service energy educator.

Almost all electronic devices contain some form of toxic substances, generally either mercury or lead, or both.

Fluorescent lights, including tube and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), contain a small amount of mercury. This mercury is not a problem as long as the lights are used and disposed of properly, according to Pedersen. However, if the bulbs are broken, the mercury is no longer contained and can enter the environment or our bodies.

Electronics, such as computers, televisions and cell phones, can contain lead and mercury. Toxic substances often are used in the switches, circuits and batteries. The covers on many cell phones are made with lead. The useful lifespan of cell phones is relatively short, so the lead has the potential to enter the environment unless the phones are recycled properly.

Disposing of small amounts of household hazardous waste in landfills is legal, but Pedersen doesn’t recommend it. The best way to dispose of anything that may contain hazardous materials is to bring it to a qualified recycler. But in North Dakota, you can’t always find these facilities easily, he says.

Residents of Fargo and local communities that use the Fargo landfill can bring their household hazardous waste to the Fargo collection facility. Bismarck is adding a facility that is set to open in May. Most communities will have a day each year for collecting hazardous materials. Dropping off the materials generally is free to residents of those communities. Check with your county officials for more information.

“While all materials are hazardous, the amount of exposure to materials is where the hazards are found,” Pedersen says. “Water can kill you if you consume a large amount. Some materials, such as mercury and lead, are dangerous in very small amounts. By properly recycling the materials that contain mercury, lead or other toxins, we can maintain a livable environment.”

He adds that the items we choose to use also can make a different to the environment. For instance, the amount of mercury in a CFL is relatively small, about 5 milligrams, compared with the amount in a watch battery (25 milligrams) or dental amalgam, which is used in fillings (100 milligrams).

“Plus, with the use of CFLs, you can actually reduce the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere from the burning of coal to produce electricity,” he says. “CFLs are 75 percent more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs and last 10 times longer.”

If you have any questions about disposing of items containing hazardous material or any other energy-related topic, contact Pedersen at (701) 231-5833 or carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Carl Pedersen, (701) 231-5833, carl.pedersen@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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