With today's rapid introduction of gadgets, your new tech toy is practically obsolete before it's out of the shopping bag. As a result, the U.S. accumulates some serious electronic scrap. Though we repurposed or recycled 3.5 million metric tons of unwanted devices last year, it might not have done the environment any favors—uncertified recyclers often unload used goods in less developed countries, creating waste dumps containing lead and mercury. Third-party certification programs are now working to make the process more accountable, but there's a long road ahead, says Henry Leineweber of Resource Recycling, the organization behind this Orlando conference. "Most recyclers want to do the right thing, but it only takes one bad apple to cause a problem."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.