What Are the Dangers of Throwing Away Electronics in the Trash Can?


With the constant pace of advancement in computers, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices, you've probably occasionally found yourself with obsolete or outdated technology in your home. While these electronics might appear harmless from the outside, the components on the inside are often hazardous or toxic, which can present a danger when thrown in the trash. Many states have begun to prohibit the disposal of electronic devices in the trash due to the environmental and health risks involved.

Volatile Components

  • Many electronic devices contain batteries which, while safe when used under normal circumstances, can become highly dangerous in a trash can. On hot days, the rising temperature inside a trash bin can cause the lithium batteries in a laptop to undergo thermal runaway. When this happens, the batteries can overheat and explode or catch on fire, potentially causing injuries to anyone close to the trash can and causing damage to the surroundings.

Toxic Elements

  • Electronic devices contain toxic elements such as lead, cadmium and mercury. These elements can leak from the devices when they are improperly disposed of. Apart from the obvious danger to children and pets that may come into contact with these elements, they can also seep into the ground which can cause problems for the environment. Once the trash is taken to a landfill site, toxic elements can contaminate the water, soil or air when the electronics are broken apart.

Injury to Collection Workers

  • Some electronic devices, such as cathode ray tube televisions and monitors, operate at high voltages. A residual charge can remain in the device long after you have turned it off and unplugged it. This can pose a serious risk to the collection workers that pick up the trash. Fluids in the trash can also seep into the electronics, causing volatile reactions when collection workers pick up the bin and the contents shift. The glass panels on these types of devices can also shatter in the trash, posing a further risk of injury.

Legal Concerns

  • Due to the volatile nature and dangers associated with electronics, many states, including Illinois, California and Virginia, prohibit the dumping of electronics. Should you be found guilty of placing electronic devices in your trash can, you can face financial penalties. Consult the trash and recycling laws that are applicable to your area in order to find out how to deal with electronic waste. Some areas have special arrangements for the collection and disposing of electronics, while others require you to take these items to disposal facilities.

Privacy Dangers

  • Since many electronic devices such as computers, laptops, phones and printers contain internal storage, throwing them in the trash can present a security hazard. Anyone can dig through your trash and get their hands on these storage devices which might contain personal details and information. The hard drives of digital copiers, for example, contain images of every document that you scanned or copied. Likewise, a computer's hard drive might contain saved email, which in the wrong hands can leave you vulnerable to identity theft.

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