Dec 17 - E-waste Ends Up as Toxic Trash Abroad

National Geographic's January magazine takes a look at the every growing problem of toxic high tech trash ending up overseas in developing countries. The feature story also discusses the advantages of recycling unwanted e-waste, a photo gallery and has an interactive look at the toxics in our computers.

Currently, less than 20 percent of e-waste entering the solid waste stream is channeled through companies that advertise themselves as recyclers, though the number is likely to rise as states like California crack down on landfill dumping. Yet recycling, under the current system, is less benign than it sounds. Dropping your old electronic gear off with a recycling company or at a municipal collection point does not guarantee that it will be safely disposed of. While some recyclers process the material with an eye toward minimizing pollution and health risks, many more sell it to brokers who ship it to the developing world, where environmental enforcement is weak. For people in countries on the front end of this arrangement, it's a handy out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution.

Read complete article here.

In California, the state's e-waste law (SB 20) explicitly prohibits the export of unprocessed e-waste to countries not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (i.e. developing countries, including China). California's policy also requires recyclers participating in the e-waste program to 'demonstrate' that they are properly managing material consistent with California law, and that they are not sending unprocessed materials to non-OECD countries. This is a condition of recyclers receiving payment for e-waste collection. For the most part, this appears to be working to curb exports, but only for the devices covered by SB 20 (TV's, computer monitors, lap tops, and other Video Display devices).

CAW plans on working on expanding the state's e-waste law to cover more electronics in the upcoming year. This past year, CAW sponsored AB 1535 (Huffman), which would have expanded the SB 20 law to include all computers. That measure was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

What You Can Do

  • Read up on California and our e-waste laws.
  • Find a place to discard of your unwanted electronic waste.