M.S. Thesis: The Future of Electronic Waste Recycling in the United States – Obstacles and Domestic Solutions

By Jennifer Namias

Advisor: Dr. Nickolas J. Themelis, Columbia University
Co-advisor: Dr. Phillip J. Mackey, P.J. Mackey Technology Inc.

Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering
Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science
Columbia University

July 2013

Consumer electronics have become an integral part of daily life and revolutionized the way we communicate, retrieve information, and entertain ourselves. Between cell phones, computers, televisions, iPads, and e-Readers, it is estimated that the average person in the United States (U.S.) uses 24 electronic products (CEA, 2008). Rapid technological advancements and growth in the electronics industry have led to a constant stream of new products and a resulting decrease in the life span of electronics. Globally, more than 50 million tons of e-waste were discarded in 2009 and 72 million tons are expected to be disposed in 2014 (Ping Jiang et al.). Europeans produce approximately 20 kilograms of e-waste/person/year1, while U.S. residents produce about 7 kilograms of e-waste/person/year2 . This discrepancy may be attributed to the varying definitions of e-waste; in the U.S. electronic waste generally consists of information technology (IT) and telecommunications equipment, monitors and televisions, whereas in Europe it also includes large household appliances, cooling and freezing appliances, and medical devices.

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