Junked audio components - hazardous waste...

I was wondering whether any of you have thought of the fact that all these audio toys we're trading back and forth here will eventually die, and once dead, will have to be discarded.
I was motivated by an online story about cellphones having a short shelf/use life for most people, and then many just throw them away in the trash. Meanwhile their components contain chemicals that are toxic when processed in any way, either burned or crushed and left to leak into landfills.
Almost all audio components have this potential problem as well: capacitors, transformers, etc. galore, all contain highly toxic materials if introduced into the ground/water/air.
With an average useful life of around 20 years, by now there must be millions of old hi-fis in landfills now, with more and more on the way!
Any ideas for an audio junkyard we could start?
Yeah, great idea. Please contact me with your Marantz 9s, 8Bs, 10Bs, 7Cs, Old QUAD ESLs, Ionovac tweeters, etc. and I'll take them off your hands. Don
All of the hi fi owned by everyone you know would not represent a fraction of what our Military discards in a year, much less what that have dumped into the oceans from the decks of naval ships.
The "story" you reported about discarded cell phones, was in
fact, a press release put out by one of the environmental
groups to get the public stirred up about a relatively minor
problem. The simple truth of the matter is that most of the
electronic stuff we throw away is difficult if not impossible to re-cycle. Old, outdated, and/or non-operable
electronic parts have virtually no market value at all. In
fact, Intel - the world's largest chip maker - has tried a
computer recycling program in my area (Portland,OR) with very limited success.
Simple truth of the matter is - that compared to a strip
mining operation - tossing out a few electronic items has
minimal impact on the environment.
The best solution with old electronic's is to disassemble the device and reuse the parts.
One of the worst are computer monitors lots of caps, rare earth elements, evacuated glass envelope (CRT) cathode ray tube with glass about 1 to 3 inches thick. High cost, short life and hard to recycle. Many of the caps and misc components are very useful for audio electronics.
ALL Tube type audio electronics are renewable and reusable.
There is a common misconception that all caps are HIGHLY toxic.
PCB (poly chloronated byphenel's) (AN ENDOCRINE TOXIN) capacitors are mainly Very high voltage and about pre-1970 most newer caps say "NO PCB'S" on the label these are typically 1,000 volts to 10,000 volts.
Hope this helps.



As with most issues, the truth on this one probably lies somewhere between the extremes. Although my primary education is in other fields, I’ve completed graduate studies in environmental engineering (focusing on landfill design, water treatment facilities, and stack scrubbers), environmental law, and environmental economics. I was formerly the Chairperson of the City of Laramie, Wyoming Environmental Commission, where I dealt with actual landfill, waste burning, and watershed/groundwater pollution issues. I’m also currently a consultant for a company operating a solid-waste source-separation and recycling facility in south Florida (where landfill problems have been occurring for some time). So I can offer a bit of relevant information on this issue (OK, I’ll probably give way too much information, but as I see it, more information can only help increase awareness and lead to better decisions).

By 2004 the total annual revenues in the U.S. telecommunications market are expected to reach about $700 billion PER YEAR, with a significant portion of this coming from new equipment sales. See http://www.bccresearch.com/editors/RG 239.html. The world-wide telecommunications market’s total annual revenues in 2001 were estimated to be about $1.3 trillion ($1,300,000,000,000), and much of this was from the sale of new electronic equipment. See http://www.e-businessworld.com/idgns/1999/09/02/LucentTelecomsMarketToReach650B.shtml. The computer industry contributes a comparable amount of stuff to the electronic E-trash pool. (How many of us here on Audiogon have discarded old, “slow” c-machines for new hotrods?) This is just the tip of the IC-berg. Virtually everything we own either contains electronic components or is built using electronic components. Just look around your home or office ... calculators, PDAs, two-way radios, copiers, fax machines, alarm clocks, TVs, printers, microwaves, fire alarms, answering machines, electric toys, video games,.... Then there are batteries, billions of them, and even the recyclable ones have some toxic crap in them.

Bottom line: we’re talking about a LOT of problematic electronic gear -- hundreds of billions of dollars worth each year -- that will end up in the trash. And these devices contain some very nasty chemicals. (How many of you know what kinds of chemicals are used for dielectrics in capacitors?) Although, individually, each of us only contributes a tiny amount to this toxic wastE-stream, it is a cumulatively significant problem. (We must always keep in mind that we’re dealing with the collective waste from hundreds of millions to billions of people, not just our inidividual selves.) In the U.S., landfills are required to have liners to help protect ground water resources. Unfortunately, liners can and do leak. When you’re talking about carcinogenic and/or mutagenic chemicals, you really don’t want any of that stuff getting into your ground water (not even at a part-per-million level). In many parts of the world, people can’t afford to install even basic landfill liners, yet they are using more electronics every year. Beyond these landfill problems, many populated areas are running out of landfill space, so cities have started operating waste incinerators. In developed countries like the U.S. waste incinerators are required to have good scrubbers, but these don’t catch all the bad stuff. Even simple plastics, when incompletely combusted, can give off dioxin and furans. And the ash residue that is captured by scrubbers ends up with a lot of toxic chemicals as well. This toxic ash goes to landfills (hopefully with very good liners).

Are environmentalists exaggerating the magnitude of this problem? I haven’t seen their claims, so I can’t say for sure. But based on the figures outlined above, I doubt it. When we’re dealing with so many electronic devices being discarded, it should be evident that this is a serious problem, not a “relatively minor” one. Hi-fi gear is only a small incremental part of this cumulatively large problem. Nevertheless, our contribution to this problem should not be ignored. I therefore really appreciate Tacs posting his question for our consideration.

So what can we do about it? Avideo is correct in noting that most of the electronic devices manufactured today are not readily recyclable. This is the crux of the problem (second only to our over-consumptive, throw-away mentality). However, this doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand along with our garbage. We humans are clever creatures, and we can surely come up with manufacturing strategies that will increase our ability to recycle/reuse problematic electronic components. We have to. Writing or emailing a letter to your Senator or Congresspersons -- asking them to support legislation to move us in this direction -- could help get us there.

In some ways, audiophiles are already helping to reduce our contribution to the overall toxic E-waste problem. For instance, we buy high-end gear that retains its value over a long period of time. So even when a high-end device becomes dated and “well enjoyed,” there is usually someone out there in our community who will be glad to get their hands on it and keep it going a few more years (thank you vintage gear collectors and thanks to everyone who takes good care of their gear!). Audiogon and similar sites also help us keep useable electronics out of the trash (thank you Audiogon!). We audiophiles are even encouraging high-end gear manufacturers to make quality products that are long-lasting and can be easily upgraded (thanks to all you manufacturers with long-range vision!). But we can each do more to address the bigger problem by extending this sound attitude (excuse the pun) to other purchasing decisions: If you need to buy a new electronic device, buy a quality piece that will last. Better yet, try to make do with what you’ve already got (sorry for being preachy). Tacs “audio junkyard” is another good idea that could help us reduce our toxic waste even further.

Here’s another easy way you can help: Most of us gadget freaks go through loads of batteries each year. A simple, money saving way to reduce this EMF-contribution to the toxic waste-stream is for each of us to switch to rechargeable NiMH batteries (for our applications, these are generally better than NiCd’s -- more power, longer life, and not as toxic). For a while now I have only used NiMH batteries -- charged by a small solar panel -- for my remote controls and other portable electronic devices. Can’t even remember the last time I bought a throw-away alkaline battery ... more money saved for CDs.

Food for thought (hopefully it won’t be the least bit toxic to any of you). By the way, does one earn an award, an admonition, or an insult for being the most long-winded poster? Don
Thanks Djjd for an unusually informative post, and to all for their responses. I don't doubt that with respect to hi-end it's a relatively minor issue but still a symptom of a wider problem. Re: the military, Albert, don't get me started, IMO the worst waste of resources in the history of the world.
As for vintage Marantz, if I find any I'm keeping it! Cheers
Tom Schuman
My company sends dead PCs to a recycler who strips the valuable components ;\ hopefully reducing the toxic content of what remains. Better than throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Junked audio is almost certainly hazardous waste, and it is a tribute to human stupidity and short sightedness that we never consider how we'll dispose of things when we start creating them.

However Agon is a great recycling scheme ... and quality audio components usually last 15-20 years. Compare that with the trash pumped out by best buy, circuit city and goodguys ... cheap, crappy consumer electronics is the worst offender, especially modern TVs, which only seem to make it for 5 years. Most of my components are 5-10 years old, and as good as new.