There were 46 candles on the cake this past Friday, though the earth has had billions of birthdays long before being human was a thing. And just as earth day has carried on long before humans gave it a holiday and will do so long after it's unpeopled, people shouldn't quit caring about the earth after it has had its day.

The recycle rates [pdf] of electronic equipment and component are paltry, but they have been improving. Back in 2000, only about 10 percent of electronic waste was properly recycled. But about 12 years later, that rate climbed to about 29 percent.

The numbers may not be worthy of pats on backs. But environmental awareness was virtually nonexistent several decades ago.

Day One: April 22, 1970
Earth began as a movement, one born of a desire to provide some protections to the environment from people. Back in 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in order to bring attention to the need to have oversight of activities that have the potential to harm the environment.

"So long as the human species inhabits the Earth, proper management of its resources will be the most fundamental issue we face," the senator said back in 1980. "Our very survival will depend upon whether or not we are able to preserve, protect and defend our environment."

After picking a day in April to celebrate the earth, April 22, the senator's efforts eventually lead to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the December of the same year.

And the formation of the EPA laid the groundwork for an ensuing string of legislation that included the creation of the Clean Air Act, Resource Recovery Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Water Quality Improvement Act and many others.

"We are not free to decide about whether or not our environment 'matters,'" Nelson said. "It does matter, apart from any political exigencies. We disregard the needs of our ecosystem at our mortal peril."

Keep The Celebration Going
For many people, Earth Day is an annual reminder to recycle old electronics equipment and the cells that power them. Electronics are often wildcards in the recycling process, due to the mixes of rare and hazardous materials they often include.

Recyclers may turn away some electronic waste because the items contain commercial parts, rechargeable batteries, fluorescent light bulbs and other components that'll need to be stripped out and sent elsewhere.

On top of the complexity of their components, electronics waste may also face limits imposed by recyclers. Some recycling organizations may place limits of the amount of electronics an individual may recycle.

Most electronics recyclers will accept computers, computer accessories, monitors, televisions, scanners, radios, DVD players, printers, copiers, fax machines, stereo equipment and telephones. For the smart variety of telephone, consumers will want to take a few extra precautions before recycling their own handsets.

It's important to remember to erase everything an old smartphone has retained. And the simplest way to do that is to factory reset smartphones before sending them away. Factory reset procedures can typically be found in user guides -- and those can be found online for those who have trouble finding them offline.

While smartphones may require a few more steps before they're ready to be recycled, they can often be easier to properly discard than other electronics. Retailers and manufacturers often offer in-store and mail-in recycling programs for free.

Beyond smartphones, it's prudent to wipe clean any electronic wastes that have the capacity to store data. Such devices include computer hard drives, digital camera, storage cards and the like.

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