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4 Misconceptions We Hear about Electronics Recycling

Electronics recycling is becoming popular and accepted as an everyday practice, but certain myths and misconceptions continue to plague the industry. Here is a closer look at four of the misconceptions we hear most often and the truths you should know.

1. It’s cheap (recycling electronics)

The old adage “you get what you pay for,” holds true here. All forms of recycling are expensive, but electronics recyclers in particular must constantly invest in technology, maintain rigorous industry certifications and ensure compliance with an ever-changing set of environmental laws. 

Much like any industry, there are always competitors that offer lower prices or even free services. But that comes at a cost to you – small, uncertified recyclers that may not charge you for recycling your electronics usually fail to be upfront and transparent with their processes and there’s a greater chance your electronics end up somewhere that they shouldn’t.

What was once “cheap” then becomes an expensive nightmare filled with fines, corporate ruin, and lethal toxins in the air and water we all breathe and drink. Laws are becoming tougher on not only the recycler, but the customer for not conducting due diligence.

How can you avoid breaking environmental laws? Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions—what is their process; do they have certifications and insurance? A transparent recycler will take the time show you their recycling processes, certifications, insurance, and anything else you may need. You will find that ‘cheap’ isn’t always best.

2. It’s easy to become an electronics recycler

We can’t knock someone for trying here - after all, that is how Southeastern Data got their start over 20 years ago. In the 90’s, the landscape was different and since has changed dramatically. Recycling companies can no longer show up in a truck and be guaranteed to make a profit. You can have the best plan in place and a solid customer base, but the volatility of commodity prices (plastics, metals, etc that are recovered from recycled electronics) can quickly turn a profit-generating recycler into a struggling one.

Let’s take a look at the price of copper over the last five years. It has increased from below $2 per pound to a five year high of approximately $4.50 – and is currently sitting in the $2.6 range. This may not seem very volatile at first glance, but when you are handling hundreds of thousands of pounds, it only takes a change of a few cents to completely throw off your projections.  This is just scratching the surface too. Other commodities--including plastic and glass--are also subject to market rates and require careful planning.  And this all hinders on if you know how to properly extract these elements from electronics.

3. Electronics are not dangerous

What do we mean? Well in theory you are not in danger of toxins as you read this post…but electronics are highly toxic if not recycled properly!  

A large Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) television can contain up to five pounds of lead. If mishandled, a person could be directly exposed to this lead - for example, if they dropped it and the glass broke. That’s dangerous, especially when you consider that the CDC considers exposure to less than 10 micrograms of lead an “actionable” level.

The average laptop contains the toxins: antimony, arsenic, chromium, and lead. These toxins are in small traces, but--when compounded and sitting in a landfill--there is a very real possibility of having these toxins leaching into the water and air and causing real health problems.

To get a closer look at exactly how many toxins are in a computer--and what you can save through proper recycling--check out the Delta Institute’s toxins calculator. It’s interesting.

The dangers are monetary as well.

4. All electronics recycling companies just throw away the material

One of the worst misconceptions about the electronics recycling industry is that companies make their money by charging to pick up your equipment and don’t actually recycle the electronics, instead sending them to the landfill. While there are always unscrupulous companies out there, they can be avoided by working with certified recyclers that offer transparency and accountability in everything that they do.

How can you really know?  
Ask your recycler how they recycle electronics; have them describe the process – if the answer is less than satisfactory, move on

While there are many other misconceptions floating around out there, these are the ones that we hear most often and seem to be popularly accepted by the public. Do you have any questions about our industry you’d like to see addressed? Give us a shout at and let us know.