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With millions of people buying new PCs, televisions and mobile phones, there is a plethora of used, unwanted and end of life electrical/ electronic equipment.
If you’re like the majority of westerners, you’ll simply throw your obsolete tech into the rubbish. After all, that obsolete 15 inch CRT computer monitor doesn’t look as though it’s packing 3 kilos of lead. Every day we throw out thousands of mobile phones and computers, making electronic waste one of the fastest-growing waste streams. Improperly disposed of, the lead, mercury and other toxic materials inside waste electronics can leak from landfills.
Where else can I send it?
If you’re part of the 20% trying to do the right thing by recycling your waste electronics, there’s something else to worry about. Old phones and computers can be dismantled to get at the useful metals inside, but takes time to do. Thus, many electronics recyclers send old electrical and electronic equipment abroad, where it is dismantled and burned with little concern for environmental or human health. Authorities rarely stop the export of potentially hazardous e-waste.
Throughout the World:
The U.S. is a prime example and is the only industrialized country that refused to ratify the 19-year-old Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to regulate the export of hazardous waste to developing nations. In the mean time, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the export of only one type of WEEE–cathode-ray tubes in old Televisions and computer monitors–and a report by the Government Accountability Office dismissed the EPA’s enforcement as "lacking."
The same report included a sting investigation that found that 43 U.S. recycling firms were willing to ship broken monitors with cathode-ray tubes to overseas buyers without getting the required permission from the EPA and the receiving countries. Yet some of these businesses had been highlighting their exemplary/ ethical environmental principles to the public. "At least three of them held Earth Day 2008 electronics-recycling events," the report notes.
Guiyu, China, receives a lot of exported electronic waste from the UK, Europe and the US, where peasants heat circuit boards over coal fires to recover lead, while others use acid to burn off bits of gold. According to reports from nearby Shantou University, Guiyu suffers from the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world and shows elevated rates of miscarriages. "There’s women sitting by the fireplace burning laptop power
supplies, with rivers of ash pouring out of homes," says Jim Puckett, founder of Basel Action Network (BAN), an electronics waste watchdog. "We’re dumping our waste on the rest of the world." (You can learn more about the Global trade in Electronic waste here)
Campaigning for more Action:
Puckett and other environmental campaigners are pushing to get a full ban on e-waste exports. Whilst their attempts saw regulations changed under the Obama administration, little has been done to enforce it. Similarly, in the EU, the WEEE Directive had to be revised to reduce exports. However, the UK alone still exports significant quantities of waste electronics to developing countries and regulation has little effect, with many using middle men to source and facilitate the export itself. It’s an interesting twist because the Basel Convention, which prohibits the trans-boundary movement of Hazardous waste only lists CRT screens in it’s annex. Conversely, EU regulation lists numerous electronic items as hazardous- You can see a list of hazardous electronic wastes here
About the Author: Richard Anthony Johnson
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