Not Sure What To Do With Your E-Waste? Just Put It in the Post!

Germany's ELECTRORETURN service allows you to recycle old electronic items simply by putting them in the post

We know that electric and electronic items shouldn't be thrown away with our regular waste - they need proper handling to prevent environmental contamination, and to recoup the valuable resources used in their production. But what are we meant to do with them when they reach the end of their life? In Germany, ELECTRORETURN is here to help.

Autor*in Annalisa Dorigo, 06.07.17

Translation Annalisa Dorigo:

We know that electric and electronic items shouldn’t be thrown away with our regular waste – they need proper handling to prevent environmental contamination, and to recoup the valuable resources used in their production. But what are we meant to do with them when they reach the end of their life? In Germany, ELECTRORETURN is here to help.

So you’ve got a new mobile phone. By the time you’ve familiarised yourself with its features, chances are it’s already obsolete. Real or designed, obsolescence of electronic devices is one key factor contributing to the growing mountains of electronic waste around the world. E-waste is growing in Europe at 3-5 per cent per year. Furthermore, according to the European Commission

“Waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) such as computers, TV-sets, fridges and cell phones is one the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, with some 9 million tonnes generated in 2005, and expected to grow to more than 12 million tonnes by 2020.”

Measures to tackle the issue are varied, and include regulation (such as the WEEE Directive developed by the European Commission), as well as a range of innovative bottom-up solutions. Some may combine environmental with socioeconomic objectives, such as this US-based initiative, or this one using e-waste to bring 3D technology to developing countries. Others may simply seek to prevent damaged mobile phones being replaced too quickly, and adding ever more trash to the e-waste pile.

As important and necessary as all such initiatives are, we still can’t quite keep up with the amount of e-waste we are generating: in Europe only 30 percent of e-waste is actually recycled.

Germany’s solution to a global problem

In Germany, e-waste regulation requires that e-waste is brought to municipal recycling facilities for disposal. When this is not convenient, some of us may build up a small collection of old electronic items in our homes, others may chuck them out on the streets hoping that someone may see some use in them, others may decide to just throw them away with the regular waste.

ELECTRORETURN from the Deutsche Post (the German postal service) is an e-waste dispatch and recycling service that seeks to give private as well as business users a practical and convenient tool to help them dispose of and recycle their e-waste.

Items are disassembled in Ludwigshafen, where the valuable metal components are extracted and reused.

How does it work?

Providing your item can fit in an envelope sized 35×25 x5cm and weighs less than one kilo, with ELECTRORETURN you can send your e-waste item free of charge to e-waste management specialist ALBA Group, Deutsche Post’s partner in the initiative.

There, metals and materials (such as gold, copper and coltan for example) are extracted for re-use, and made available once again to producers, reducing waste disposal costs and the need for new resources’ extraction.

Old mobile or smartphones, digital cameras, MP3-players, empty printer cartridges, small computer components, speakers, hard-drives, electric razors and toothbrushes are some of the items that can be easily sent off for proper handling and recycling through the ELECTRORETURN service, and the service is free for private users (although it’s available to business users too).

As a private user, all you need to do is download and print an addressed and stamped label from the ELECTRORETURN website, and stick it to your envelope. A maximum of two items can be placed in each envelope, and you’ll need to ensure that your items are securely packed, to avoid the envelope tearing and/or any contents spilling out. Then just pop your envelope in a letter box, or bring it to any Deutsche Post branch, and voilà, your e-waste is taken care of, its valuable parts recycled and reused.

ELECTRORETURN is an initiative from the German postal service, and is therefore available Germany-wide.

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