The Deal With E-Waste   Leave a comment

Ever seen a sign or a flyer advertising that on a particular day your city/school/church/other organization will be having an e-waste collection day? Ever wondered what the deal is?

E-waste (electronic waste) is the TV’s, computers, cell phones, appliances, etc that we use and discard. So why not just throw them in the trash? Well, unfortunately a lot of electronic equipment contains toxic metals (like lead or mercury) or other toxic compounds (like brominated fire retardants) that could eventually leach into groundwater from a landfill or that would be emitted into the air by an incinerator, thereby causing human exposure concerns. Also, electronic equipment contains a lot of valuable and non-toxic metals such as copper or gold. Some of these metals are really valuable (the price of copper has been so high for years that thieves will strip electric panels or irrigation equipment and sell the metal to scrap dealers), and it is ridiculous to just throw them away without recovering the valuable stuff.

So we use electronic waste recyclers. Unfortunately, many of them ship the e-waste to third world countries in Asia and Africa, where they are dismantled and recycled often by children, by hand, and with no worker protections or environmental protections. Check out the Basel Action Network (BAN) website to see photos and articles. The Basel Ban was passed in 1994 by a group of developing nations to ban the export of hazardous waste (including e-waste) from the 29 wealthiest industrialized nations of the OECD. There is still plenty of controversy internationally about the Basel Ban, and my understanding is that it has not yet been added to the Basel Convention as a ratified amendment. However, as an individual I find the concept of dumping “my” hazardous waste onto someone else, especially someone who is devastatingly poor and disadvantaged in the Third World already, to be absolutely unconscionable.

So what do I do? I took advantage of BAN’s new e-stewards program to verify that a local e-waste recycling event in my area last weekend was being conducted by a company that would not be exporting the e-waste. When I found that CEAR is an e-steward, I loaded up the e-waste that had been collecting in our house over the years (an old broken kitchen appliance, a broken laptop, a broken cell phone, a broken game controller, and various cables) and dropped them off while I was on my farmer’s market trip.

I have to admit that I have not been proactive about contacting companies to encourage them to reduce the toxic materials in electronic equipment, and I have not been encouraging companies to adopt take-back strategies and support responsible recycling of electronic equipment. Advocacy and speaking up are my big stumbling blocks.

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Posted April 19, 2010 by mayakey in environment

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