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  (Source: Natalie Behring/Greenpeace)
The U.S. government aims to stamp out trash exporting, while environmental lobbies put pressure on big business

The “tech trash” subject is a controversial one in the U.S. and abroad.  For the last decade, the U.S. has been shipping growing amounts of electronics trash to foreign countries, particularly third world and developing nations.  China is among the prime targets, and despite laws put in place against the practice, the trash continues to pour in.

The U.S. government, particularly Congress, has grown increasingly upset about the image the U.S. is projecting by shipping its tech trash overseas.  Now they are looking to act with new e-waste legislation on the table.  U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, last week introduced legislation which would ban the export of toxic e-waste to developing nations.  Analysts predict the legislation might have enough support to pass by next year.

Part of the reason for the rise in concern, analysts say is the eyesore of a problem is getting harder to ignore.  With Americans owning roughly 3 billion gadgets, including desktops, laptops, cell phones, and PDAs, there is a tremendous amount of tech trash generated each year.  In 1998, 20 million computers were estimated to be disposed of annually.  In 2005, despite increased recycling rates the estimate was up to 37 million.

While the overall waste only accounts for a small percentage of the total trash, it is growing.  And with 2.25 million tons in the last two years and only 18 percent being recycled, the problem is becoming more and more noticeable.

According to advocates, when this waste is shipped overseas and broken down by impoverished locals, mercury, lead, and brominated flame retardants are frequently reduced.  Locals often work with no gloves and face heavy exposure to these chemicals that have been shown to have a wide array of health effects.

Another emerging crisis is the switch to digital TV.  With the signals fully switching in February 2009, it is predicted that 32 million digital televisions will bought, meaning millions of old models will likely be trashed.  These old models will likely cause a massive surge in tech trash for the year.  Older CRT (cathode ray tube) models frequently have as much as four pounds of lead a piece. 

Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the nonprofit Electronics TakeBack Coalition warns people that "recycling" efforts may not be all they're cracked up to be.  Many recycling initiatives collect massive amounts of tech waste and then ship it overseas and then pocket the small profit.

Ms. Kyle insists that only if companies themselves adopt national take back programs will the practice be suitable for regulation and the misbehavior able to be stopped.  Of all the manufacturers of TVs, until recently, only Sony was progressive enough to adopt such policies, she said.  Sony offers a free take back program at its affiliated retailers.  In a Congressional report Sony stated that it was perhaps the only tech company to ban "the exportation of hazardous waste to developing countries."

Now LG Electronics has decided to side with Sony and is launching its own free recycling initiative.  By September, LG promises to have one recycling center per state.  Some states and government entities such as the surprisingly green state of Texas have recycling programs of their own that are manufacturer neutral.  These programs have been a major factor in upping recycling rates from 15 percent in 1999 to 18 percent in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

International environmental group Greenpeace, known for some of its more controversial stances, has decided to tackle this slightly less radical issue.  It released a major report on the flow of tech trash to the West African country of Ghana, one of the major destinations after China and India.  The report details the toxic exposure citizens of the country face in their search for aluminum and copper to resell.  It also points out possible environmental damage due to improper disposal.

Greenpeace is trying to convince the world's two largest electronics manufacturers -- Philips and Sharp -- to phase out toxic materials in their electronics and to fully adopt recycling programs.

Still, private and advocate efforts are not enough, according to many members of Congress.  They feel even the EPA, the government agency tasked with dealing with such issues, has disappointed with its inaction.  Rep. Green states, "If the EPA cannot or will not act to halt the toxic e-waste trade to developing nations, then Congress should take action."  

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RE: I Don't Understand
By masher2 on 8/6/2008 1:41:09 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is that, since the US and Europe have already solved all the pressing problems of pollution and environmental damage, groups like Greenpeace increasingly have to manufacture their own artificial problems to justify their own existence.

While many in Ghana, China, or India are working 18-hour days in the fields or worse, starving, the workers who recycle the West's e-waste are doing so by choice, because it means a much better lifestyle than they'd otherwise have. The health risks, while real, are being vastly overstated...handling used cell phones and TVs is certainly less hazardous than a life working in a coal mine.

Reprocessing e-waste in the US with US labor costs and under current EPA regulations would be more than 100 times more costly than shipping it overseas. Ultimately that cost will appear in the purchase price of these goods, meaning consumers can afford less of them. And that, of course, is the real goal of environmentalists -- the reduction and eventual elimination of our industrial lifestyle.

RE: I Don't Understand
By jskirwin on 8/6/2008 3:14:20 PM , Rating: 2
It's just another example of the Green's patronizing attitude towards the developing world. "We know what's best for you, so do what we tell you to do."

Like banning DDT spraying, for example. Malaria was almost eradicated when the Silent Spring wavers got DDT banned. Since then malaria has killed hundreds of millions of children in the developing world.

Genocide for the sake of the environment. Guess the ends justifies the means to some people...

RE: I Don't Understand
By Spuke on 8/6/2008 3:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
Genocide for the sake of the environment. Guess the ends justifies the means to some people...
Some of the more radical one's simply want the vast majority of us to die so they can take charge and "guide" us in how we live. It's just another power hungry group bent on mass rule. They're no different than the Nazi's.

RE: I Don't Understand
By Symmetriad on 8/8/2008 4:21:48 PM , Rating: 2
Do you seriously think the environmentalist movement is made up of sinister men in suits slavering over the thought of genocide and annihilation? I mean, there are some shady and manipulative people in it, and there have been some massively stupid decisions made in the name of environmentalism, but I don't believe the "WORLDWIDE GREENAZI CONSPIRACY" idea any more than I believe in the "WORLDWIDE OIL BARON CONSPIRACY" or ZOG. How can some of you make perfectly intelligent arguments and then make a radical shift to such rabid and preposterous statements?

I'll agree on one thing, though: Greenpeace, as usual, has no grasp on reality. Those toxic materials are in there because the products won't do what they're supposed to without it. They can't expect a company to reinvent the wheel just because they say so.

"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA

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