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
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
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."