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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: Trash/treasure
By masher2 on 8/6/2008 1:44:28 PM , Rating: 1
> "can you think of nobody but yourself? "

I think the people starving in Ghana are more than happy to receive our "trash", filled with costly metals they can resell for a profit. Banning e-waste might reduce their chances of cancer by 0.001%...but it most definitely would quadruple their chance of not being able to afford basic healthcare, decent foodstuffs, and other essential components of a modern lifestyle.

Why not think of them, and let them freely choose which alternative is better for them?

RE: Trash/treasure
By phattyboombatty on 8/6/2008 2:26:44 PM , Rating: 3
Bingo. If this is bad for Ghana, let Ghana's government ban the import of US trash. The US legislators should be concerned with the citizens of the US first and foremost. I didn't elect my congressmen to be the world's safety patrol.

RE: Trash/treasure
By Polynikes on 8/6/08, Rating: 0
RE: Trash/treasure
By Kunikos on 8/6/2008 4:32:44 PM , Rating: 3
Perhaps. But should the United States really be viewed in an even poorer light than it already is? Already viewed as an aggressor in world politics, if the US also adds "uncaring world polluter" (something it currently is only starting to be viewed as) then we can guarantee that attacks against America and American nationals and interests abroad will only increase in future years. Do we really need to be viewed as the fat, arrogant, xenophobic, socio-ecological exploiters of the world?

RE: Trash/treasure
By masher2 on 8/6/2008 4:42:26 PM , Rating: 2
Is freedom really so difficult a concept to grasp? If another nation considers our trash unwanted or even dangerous, they certainly have the right to ban it. But if China and India want our old metal-bearing electronics, why should we deny it to them?

It's rather silly to ask us to modify our behavior because some pudding-headed ignorant European might have view the situation fallaciously. Let them educate themselves, rather than we sink to their level.

RE: Trash/treasure
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 8/6/2008 6:32:26 PM , Rating: 2
"Do we really need to be viewed as the fat, arrogant, xenophobic, socio-ecological exploiters of the world?"

Hats off to you. Nice grouping of $5.00 words..... :)

I like how people will say the US is an uncaring world polluter as you list. I wonder if the people making this claim have viewed Beijing this morning with the Olympics two days away from starting? After 2 months of shutting down factory's, cutting back on auto traffic the air still looks brown. I've never personally experienced brown air and I live near a very large city in the USA. I would add I hope never to have to experience brown air. Has no one over there had any concern about the pollution levels in the past, oh I don't know 6 or 10 years?

RE: Trash/treasure
By Spuke on 8/6/2008 7:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
"Do we really need to be viewed as the fat, arrogant, xenophobic, socio-ecological exploiters of the world?"
It's easy to throw out names when you're sitting in front of your expensive computer, well fed, educated, and comfortable. Doesn't anyone feel they're blessed anymore?

RE: Trash/treasure
By rcc on 8/6/2008 6:55:25 PM , Rating: 2
In this light, you should be furious with the producing nations. They built this stuff. We just use it for a while and pass it along to where it is wanted when we are done with it.

Oh wait, we created a demand for the product right? So it's ok for them to produce and ship it here. But wait, is there not a demand for the tech trash? We are all just arcs in the circle of life.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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