Reuse vs. Recycling E-Waste

What is the difference between reuse and recycling? Reuse is good and recycling is less good. Let’s take a step back. Overall, there are three main endpoints for e-waste streams:

1. Landfills, either domestically or abroad.

2. In a recycling facility to harvest valuable materials and natural resources.

3. Diverted from end-of-life and reused by another consumer.

It may come to your surprise that recycling is not the most sustainable solution for handling electronic waste (e-waste). We know that landfills are bad, but recycling requires expending energy to move the discarded electronics, disassemble them, and reharvest the precious commodities. In the meantime, the embodied energy (the energy that was already used to create the original product) is lost. To make matters worse, toxic recycling efforts often happen internationally, exposing vulnerable locals to potentially life-threatening elements like lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic and more.

If at all possible, the EPA recommends reduction and reuse before recycling. Reuse may mean giving the electronic a small repair or upgrade, but ultimately all of the energy already expended to create it is maintained. Plus, by extending the life of products already used, you are eliminating the need for another new product, another energy insufficient task.