"The United States is the international 'bad boy' of computer recycling"

I love that this article describes a horrible practice, shames the U.S. government for failure, and tells us what we as individuals can do, even though our government is complicit:

Burning computer components releases dioxins, furans, PCB’s, and other toxins into the atmosphere, and also into the lungs of anyone nearby. Why would anyone incinerate a PC? It’s the cheapest, low-tech way to separate the worthless plastics from the salable metals. If you reside in a poor country without environmental and safety standards, this is how you separate and “recycle” materials. For example, yank the wires from desktops, then burn them to separate the worthless rubberized plastic coating from the salable copper within….

Companies called “fake recyclers” approach well-meaning organizations — charities, churches, and community organizations — and offer to hold a Recycling Day. The charity provides publicity, legitimacy, and a parking lot for the event. On the designated day, well-meaning residents drop off their old electronics for recycling. The fake recycler picks it up in their trucks, hauls it away for shipping, and makes money by exporting it to Chinese or African “recycling” centers. Nobody’s the wiser….

Organizations with outstanding reputations are conned into participating in this business while believing they are engaging in beneficial activity. It’s not their fault. Since fake recycling is unregulated by U.S. law, anyone is free to call themselves a recycler and sell materials into the overseas trade. Misrepresentation about it is not illegal. Fake recycling is a thriving business.

…the international community devised a set of rules and agreements to control e-waste disposal and make sure that it’s done properly. Generically called the Basel Conventions, these were initiated in 1989 in Basel, Switzerland, and have evolved forward since then.

Over 150 nations around the world adhere to the Basel Conventions. The United States is one of four that have not ratified — and do not adhere to — these international agreements. These charts show that the United States is the international “bad boy” of computer recycling. While one can only speculate as to why this is, it does seem clear that U.S. policy is captive to lobbyists and driven by narrow special interests.

It costs several dollars per item to properly dispose of much e-waste, and our society has decided not to pay that price. Instead those costs are imposed on the environment and those who work overseas in unsafe and unhealthy conditions…

About one-quarter of Americans do not own a computer. For many, a five to ten year old machine for basic activities like web surfing, word processing, and email means they don’t have to trek to the public library or wait at school to use a shared computer.

…please donate [old computers] to a refurbisher rather than to a recycler. A refurbisher reuses the equipment, while a recycler destroys it and reuses the component materials. Vendor take-back programs do not refurbish because they can not afford the labor to do this. They only recycle. But there are many non-profit refurbishers. You can find refurbishers to donate your old computer to here, here, and here.

Posted by James on Thursday, July 08, 2010