With so many gadgets and gizmos on the market today, one would expect e-waste to comprise a large percentage of our waste stream. According to the EPA, less than two percent of municipal solid waste actually consists of electronics. In 2007, the EPA found that 18 percent of e-waste was being recycled along with 10 percent of cell phones. Considering that much e-waste contains hazardous materials such as nickel, cadmium, lead, and mercury, it’s surprising that leachate studies have proven electronics containing these heavy metals do not pose a risk to human health or the environment. Regardless, EPA strongly urges consumers to recycle their e-waste to conserve landfill space, stating, “Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and as a result, we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution, save energy, and save resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth.” To put this in perspective, the EPA relates an interesting statistic: recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 US homes in one year.
Interestingly enough, the EPA does not regulate the export of e-waste. In fact, there are minimal regulations and enforcement for global e-waste disposal, which has caused hazardous toxins to be dumped on underdeveloped countries and placed in the hands of children working in sweatshops in indigenous areas around the globe. With such issues in mind, the Basel Action Network (BAN) was founded in 1997. Through BAN’s non-profit e-Steward Initiative, certification programs have been introduced to electronics recyclers to offer incentives for the responsible collection and disposal of e-waste, “ensuring businesses and consumers alike that their old technology will not poison vulnerable populations, recycling workers, or the global ecosystem.” To learn more about BAN and the e-Stewards Initiative, visit http://e-stewards.org/about.
According to the July 5, 2011 edition of E-Scrap News News Flash, Intercon Solutions has become the first processor to be denied certification by e-Stewards. “Compelling evidence” has surfaced suggesting Intercon exported toxic electronic waste to Hong Kong. How can a consumer wishing to properly dispose of e-waste be assured their devices are being processed responsibly? The EPA suggests contacting e-Stewards for a list of certified electronics recyclers. Earth 9-1-1 also maintains an updated list of local electronics recyclers around the country and can be found online at http://earth911.com.
It’s unfortunate that poor nations are suffering for advancements in technology. Kudos to e-Stewards Initiative for taking steps to protect the planet and its inhabitants by instituting measures for responsible processing and disposal of e-waste.