TechDump: The Electronic Waste Land

During a recent visit to TechDump‘s St. Paul location, 17-year-old Julian and 11-year-old Dylan got a tour by CEO Amanda LaGrange. She offered a snapshot of what the company does with massive mounds of e-waste, and why.

You can’t throw old electronics in the trash as you would normal trash. That’s because electronics contain hazardous materials like lead, cadmium and mercury. These contaminate our air, soil and water. On the other hand, electronic waste also contains valuable resources that otherwise go to waste when discarded improperly — like gold.

Older models especially used more precious minerals in its larger components.

Step 1: Collection

  • Residents can drop off electronic waste at TechDump’s Golden Valley or St. Paul locations, 8:30am-4:30pm, Monday through Friday. They will erase personal data from computers.
  • Recycling events are held at set locations for easy, tax-deductible dropoffs.
  • Pickups can also be arranged for free — for those with at least 10 computers — or for a fee.
  • NOTE that some electronic items that are difficult to refurbish or recycle require a fee to take them off your hands, such as old cathode-tube TVs, printers and microwaves. See their list here.
  • TechDump does not take appliances. Better Futures Enterprises (air-conditioners, lighting, kitchen/bathroom appliances, cabinets, flooring, etc.) and Best Buy (cleaners, fans, hair dryers, certain batteries, CDs/DVDs, video games, cameras, car navigation systems) are other good options to consider.
Many people throw away smaller items, like cell phones, tablets and ipads. Many of these can be refurbished and sold by TechDump, to offset operating costs. All private data is destroyed before being recycled. “We typically like everything that has a battery or a cord. Servers and switches, we like those too.”

Step 2: Processing

TechDump is a division of Jobs Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides stable jobs to economically disadvantaged adults who are trained with marketable job skills and earn a pathway to self-sufficiency. These trained processors separate electronics as it comes in, sort the material into groups (i.e. plastics, glass, metals, circuit boards, etc.), and move the components to the appropriate next station.

Processors are taught to spot quality — ranking components as low, medium or high grade. A common practice in the electronics business is “planned obsolescence” — planning and designing a product so it will become obsolete, or break, within a certain time frame — so that consumers buy more. As a result, older computers generally have parts that work well in newer models.

TechDump Tip: By reading reviews, and understanding more about the electronic you’re planning on buying, you can avoid products built with planned obsolescence in mind.

Step 3: Refurbishing

Many electronics have been discarded simply for a newer model, and can be restored as powerful first computers for kids, cost-effective electronics for small businesses, or starter equipment at non-profits. Find TechDump’s list of inventory here, which comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Why Buy Used at TechDump?

  • “Our reformatted, refurbished electronics are much more affordable than unopened originals, but many of them are just as powerful.”
  • “Manufacturing, packaging and transporting electronics is a very energy-intensive process. When you skip the electronics stores and buy a product that’s already in circulation, you spare the planet from unnecessary greenhouse gases.”
  • “We give each item a letter grade that tells you its overall condition, and we also provide detailed information about its features, imperfections, operating system and any recent upgrades. You’ll know exactly what to expect.”

Step 4: Recycling

If an item can’t be fixed up and resold at TechDump’s Golden Valley location, the Recycler dismantles the components and uses refining methods to bring the components into their purest and raw form for re-use purposes.

We saw a nicely compacted 685-pound bale of plastic bits that will ultimately be sold as a commodity for melting into pellets and re-use.

Here is a good article by Popular Science that explains where the bits of plastic, metal and computer chips go.

“Plastic usually gets sold to manufacturers in China to be used in other electronics. Metals extracted from recycled products usually stay closer to home because the U.S. still has lots of domestic uses and manufacturing facilities for metal. Elements like rare earth metals, used in many electronics, are much easier to exact from our recycled electronics than from the earth itself.”

Did You Know?

Information from TechDump

  • The average American will buy a new phone after every 18 months. This results in at least 100 million phones discarded every year. Up to 80% of materials used in cell phones can be recycled and reused.
  • One recycled cell phone saves enough energy to charge a laptop for about 44 hours. If recycled, the cell phones we erroneously throw in the trash could produce enough energy to power over 24,000 homes a year.
  • Cell phones are made of valuable and scarce minerals. From one million recycled cell phones, we can recover 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium.
  • Incorrect disposal of electronics is so harmful to the environment, it’s illegal in Minnesota and many other states.

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