Two recent studies show that e-waste exported to developing nations continues to cause great harm to the children in the areas where our e-waste is crudely handled in China and Ghana.
A 2010 study of children in Guiyu, the “e-waste capital” of China, shows that a shocking 88 percent of the 167 children tested (all younger than 6 years old) had lead poisoning. China Daily reports that the main reason for high levels of lead among Guiyu’s children is the lead dust from e-waste, “which floats in invisible clouds about a meter above the ground – that is, around the same height as children’s noses and mouths.” Some exposure occurs from the dust that the parents, who work in the e-waste facilities, bring home on their clothes.
The study was performed by the Shantou University Medical College, which has been measuring blood lead levels in children in Guiyu since 2004.
A second report just released by the Danish journalistic watchdog DanWatch and the makeITfair campaign shows that e-waste exports to Ghana, the primary e-waste dumping ground in Africa, is causing similar harm to children on the other side of the world from China. According to the report Children constitute around 40 percent of the scrap workers at the Agbogbloshie dumpsite, a Ghana’s biggest e-waste dumpsite.
According to the report, children who work at the e-waste dumpsite at Agbogboshie visit the nearby health clinic regularly with cuts, coughs, headaches, upper respiratory problems, rashes and burns, which are attributed to their work with the waste. The toxic fumes from the burning process and the glass and metals from the dismantling cause problems for the children.
The exposure isn’t limited to people working in the dumpsites. “Just around the corner you will find one of the biggest food markets in Accra, an area that is indeed also being affected by the hazardous handling of e-waste at the dumpsite, since the black smoke from the bonfires reaches this area too. In addition to this, some of the vegetables sold at this market come from the small farms situated in close proximity to the Odaw river, which in turn means that these vegetables are being irrigated with contaminated water.”
A study of blood and urine from adults working in or living nearby the dumpsites found high levels of lead and other heavy metals. (Children were not studied.)
While much of the e-waste going to Ghana comes from Europe, some of it comes from the United States, particularly from the east coast.
While officials in Ghana are seeking safer methods of processing e-waste, they are also asking developing countries to change their exporting practices.
“ ‘We are calling on the companies and governments in the developed countries in the light of the Basel Convention to stop dumping of electronic gadgets,’ says John Pwamang head of the Toxics Department at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency.” Stakeholders in Ghana want the exporting countries to be sure that the exports consist only of working products.
Members of the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would do just that. H.R. 2284 and S.1270 would allow exports only of tested, working electronic equipment, but would restrict the export of untested or non-working e-waste from the U.S. to developing countries. This would not only stop our used electronics from contaminating workers, children, and communities in these nations. But it would also promote more recycling, and create jobs, here in the U.S.
“Lead levels in children linked to rise in e-waste profits”
The China Daily, November 16, 2011
“What a waste – how your computer causes health problems in Ghana”
A report from the MakeITfair campaign in Europe and DanWatch (Denmark), November 2011.
Fails to act on biggest part of the problem – exporting to developing nations
The federal Interagency Task Force on Electronic Stewardship issued its report this week on what the Obama Administration will do to address the mounting e-waste problem. The report made many good recommendations, particularly with ideas for promoting greener design. But the report really got it very, very wrong on the biggest problem – the export of toxic e-waste to developing nations. This misstep in fact exacerbates the problem for our economy and environment.
The scope of the task force’s work was right: how to promote better design of new electronic products and better management of used electronic products. Their big focus, especially in their media releases, was how their plan will create domestic recycling jobs and improve the economy. But the actions they recommend do nothing to stop exporting e-waste to developing countries (even though most of those exports are illegal), so in fact, they will end up stifling U.S. recycling job growth in this sector.
Why solving the export problem should have been top priority
The problems of exporting e-waste from the U.S. to developing nations are well documented. Exports travel the low road, ending up in places where they are crudely handled, bashed, burned, and dipped in acid to extract the metals. Studies have found that workers and communities are being poisoned in the process. And with every container of e-waste we export, we’re shipping out U.S. jobs. Until we close the door on this cheap and dirty export low road, we will never see robust development of the recycling industry in the U.S. Responsible recyclers tell us they are eager to expand their businesses, and hire more people to do disassembly, processing and repairs if the used electronics come their way. But they can’t do that if we simply load up the containers and export it all to China, India, Ghana and other developing nations.
Why won’t Feds lead by example?
One of the stated goals of the report is to “Ensure that the Federal Government Leads by Example.” We completely agree that the federal government SHOULD lead by example in managing the equipment they bought with taxpayer money. And while they did say that federal agencies must work with certified recyclers, they failed to set the bar where the other true leaders do – making sure that federally owned used electronics won’t be exported to developing nations (unless they are working and going to reuse).
Instead of being out in front, they stand several giant steps behind the true leaders on managing their used electronics, including manufacturers (like Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung, LG, ASUS), retailers like Best Buy, recycling customers (like Wells Fargo and Bank of America), and counties (like Santa Clara County, CA and King County, WA) who all have policies that ensure that their e-waste does not end up in developing countries. While the federal agencies will now use certified e-waste recyclers, one of the two certification programs they will use allows e-waste to be exported to developing nations.
Also quite troubling are the recommendations in the section called, “Reduce Harm from US Exports of E-Waste and Improve Safe Handling of Used Electronics in Developing Countries” which basically holds open the export door, using the faulty notion that we can make sure it’s sent to “environmentally responsible” recyclers in developing countries. This is an industry plagued by cheating (even in this country), cutting corners, and quick profits without concern for long term impacts. It’s hard enough to tell the high road companies from the cheaters even in this country. How exactly will the EPA or any other agency determine that a facility in China or India is handles e-waste safely – not just on the day of an audit, but all year long?
What we suspect has happened here is that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), one of the agencies at the Task Force table, has strong-armed this report to what it THINKS best serves U.S. businesses. But that’s the sad part, their recommendations only serve to undermine U.S. business. The companies that export a lot of the e-waste are not companies that typically have made a lot of investment in their U.S. businesses, or that have a lot of employees. You can run an export business without much in the way of equipment or staff. You basically need a truck and a place to load up containers.
Why not support job growth in the U.S. instead of China?
Contrast that with what responsible U.S. recyclers’ businesses look like. They have larger facilities, with much more equipment and workers, since they need to evaluate equipment, take it apart, separate materials and parts, package materials and parts to go to processors, or in some cases do some processing themselves. Some have enormous (and very expensive) mechanical shredders that do some of the materials separation. Many typically have people doing repairs and refurbishment. These recyclers have invested quite a bit already into their businesses, and their workers. Why wouldn’t we want policies that help these companies grow, since we know they will hire workers here in the U.S. Instead, the Task Force is advocating that we hold the export door open, so that companies abroad will see all the job growth. Sorry, but the Administration got this part wrong, very wrong.
Underscores Need for Congress to Act
With this report, the Administration showed it’s not ready to solve the e-waste problem. But fortunately, members of Congress are. A bill has been introduced in both houses (HR 2284/S1270) that would address the e-waste export problem, promote recycler business development and job growth in the U.S.
E-waste export legislation is the most important action the federal government can take on e-waste problem
A bill to restrict exports of toxic e-waste to developing nations was introduced yesterday in the House and today in the Senate, with bi-partisan sponsorship. HR 2284 (S1270) would allow the export of tested and working used electronics, but prevent exports of untested or non-working equipment or parts containing certain toxic substances, if they are destined for developing nations.
Solving the e-waste export problem is the most important step that the federal government can take on the e-waste issue.
State laws and other efforts are diverting e-waste from the landfills to recyclers. We have a lot of good work going on around the country to promote e-waste recycling, including 25 states passing laws on e-waste recycling. Some of the manufacturers – notably Dell and Best Buy – are making the effort to take back e-waste beyond what the laws require. Many government agencies and non-profits are actively promoting recycling, and community collection events are common in many areas.
But many of these “recyclers” don’t recycle it. Unfortunately, we can’t say that all these efforts are resulting in real recycling. – in fact, some is surely resulting in more exporting of e-waste. Some of the manufacturers have policies prohibiting e-waste exporting to developing nations, but their takeback programs don’t handle all the e-waste being collected. Still, we estimate that 50-80% of e-waste that gets into recyclers’ hands is exported to developing countries, where it causes great harm. We need to close the door on this cheap and dirty option now, as all these new efforts to promote recycling are just taking off.
States can’t regulate on export issue. While the State legislators passing e-waste laws don’t want to see the e-waste collected in their state programs simply exported to developing countries, they are not legally able to stop it. Constitutionally, e-waste export is considered a federal trade issue, and under the jurisdiction of the federal government, not the states. So we need Congress to act here, as the states can’t legally do it.
Export bill would bring jobs home to the U.S. We’ve been exporting a lot of jobs with our e-waste. Responsible recyclers here in the U.S. tell us they could add more jobs here, and expand their operations if this law were passed. Some recyclers would make capital investments (in facilities, or in equipment like shredders) if they knew they had a stead flow of products coming in. But they can’t compete with someone exporting to the countries with weak laws and no health and safety requirements. This bill would allow them to grow their businesses and add jobs, especially important in this economy.
National security problem: counterfeit chips from e-waste. Could a Pentium 1 chip from the ancient desktop that you finally “recycled” last Earth Day, find it’s way into our military’s communications or security equipment? It’s very possible. E-waste from China is a primary source for the chip counterfeiters, who take our old consumer grade chips, sand off the ID numbers, and pass them off as military grade, selling them into the U.S. defense companies. It’s become a huge problem in the defense industry. This bill would help to eliminate the source for some of those counterfeiters.
The manufacturers support this action. Leading electronics manufacturers already have policies that are consistent with HR 2284. HP, Dell, Samsung, Apple, and Best Buy have all endorse the legislation. Today, HP issued a statement challenging other companies to support this legislation.
Passing this legislation would help address environmental, public health, and national security problems, and help the economy by promoting business development and creating green jobs. We applaud the Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle who have come together to introduce this important legislation.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) today announced a new national voluntary program to recycle electronics. Well at least they announced a goal, and promised to tell us about their national program at some point in the future.
CEA proclaimed a goal of collecting a billion pounds of e-waste a year by 2016, five years from now. They said the industry collected 300 million pounds in 2010. By my calculations, 200 million of that was in states with laws that require them to do so. (Many more state programs began in 2011 or will begin in 2012, so of course their volumes are not reflected yet.)
Of course, any effort by this industry to do more recycling is a good thing. Frankly, these companies’ voluntary takeback programs have been , with a couple of exceptions (particularly Dell). Most of the company programs require you to mail back your old products, which most people simply won’t do. For TVs (which can’t be mailed back) the collection sites are few and far between in most states. So in theory, a sincere, robust, long-term recycling effort by this industry should be a good thing.
But here’s why today’s announcement is seriously underpowered:
1. Where’s the beef?
CEA gave almost no other information about the program or how they are going to meet their goal. They won’t even say which companies are participating. What will each company be responsible for? What products will they take back – everything they make? A big announcement of a new program should have included at least some details.
2. Where can we bring our old stuff?
Here is a map of supposedly 5000 industry collection sites according to CEA. You can see dots on the map, but you can’t actually get the name or location of any of them. (California is missing entirely.) Instead, they provide a link to another site, that links eventually to the Earth911 site, which lists all kinds of recycling sites and not just e-waste collectors that are part of the CEA effort. Is that CEA’s answer – to send people to sites that the industry isn’t involved with, monitoring, or paying for? Or are we supposed to look at each individual company’s own website? Talk about a patchwork of solutions!
3. What’s the commitment to not export e-waste to developing countries?
If this is truly a “leadership initiative” as CEA calls it, then this effort must include a very clear commitment that the toxic products collected will not simply be exported to developing countries, where they have been proven to cause great harm to people and nature. CEA’s “principles” statement falls short of that commitment. Their press release today said the initiative would “prohibit the use of recyclers and downstream processors who dump end-of-life electronics in developing nations.” But we want a much clearer statement that makes it clear that untested and non-working electronics wont’ be sent to developing countries – since a lot of e-waste exporting is under the guise of “reuse.” Most of the leading companies have themselves published specific policies that they won’t export e-waste to developing countries, including untested, non-working products and parts. So why wasn’t that a core part of principles released today?
4. Where’s the commitment to high standards?
CEA makes generally supportive statements about using recyclers with third party certifications. But there are two very different certification programs now, one which has a much stronger standard than the other. The e-Stewards standard is the only one which does not allow exporting toxic e-waste to developing nations, or using prison labor, landfilling or incinerating e-waste. The industry should be embracing this standard, and encouraging their vendors to become certified to it.
CEA Wants States to Stop Passing Laws
CEA’s strategy with this announcement is to stop the States from passing laws on e-waste recycling. Today’s announcement was, I believe, the first step towards convincing States that industry will step up on its own, so no need to keep passing those pesky state e-waste laws. Then they intend to make this program the basis of national takeback legislation. They don’t even hide this strategy. But with no details provided today on CEA’s program, it seems unlikely that legislators contemplating an e-waste law will be convinced that industry is on the verge of solving this problem.
Ultimately, we want to see from the industry’s takeback program:
- No exports of toxic e-waste to developing countries, including untested or non-working products,
- Vendors certified to e-Stewards Standard, the highest standard available
- Transparency to show this is a whole industry effort, not just a few companies. Reporting on collection goals and volumes by each company each year.
- Go beyond complying with state laws, and provide robust programs in all states.
- Show that this is a permanent program, not just a PR announcement intended to discourage more states from passing takeback laws.
- Maintain top environmental management systems that include accountability for toxic materials, worker safety, responsible reuse, data security, and export controls that conform with international law and best practices.
- Don’t allow any hazardous e-waste to be sent to solid waste (non-hazardous waste) landfills or incinerators for disposal or energy recovery.
We’re looking forward to seeing more details from CEA soon.
So far, 23 states have passed e-waste recycling laws which hold the manufacturers responsible, to varying degrees, for taking back and recycling their old products. One of the questions legislators wrestle with when considering such a law is whether simply requiring the companies to have a takeback program is adequate, or whether the law needs to include stronger language that sets goals or expectations for the companies’ takeback efforts.
Some states have laws with collection goals or specific measures for requiring how convenient collection must be. But several states, including Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Missouri, have passed laws which simply require the companies to offer a takeback program, but which don’t establish any specific obligations. (The Texas law says that recycling options must be free, “reasonably convenient” and “designed to meet the collection needs of consumers in this state.”) As a result, companies can really do whatever they want – including simply offering a mail back program, even though they know few consumers will actually use it.
How hard do the companies try?
So what do companies do when the law gives them that much latitude? Do they rise to the challenge and launch robust takeback programs to take back their products statewide? Not even close. As a case study, we can look at Texas, which has just released results from 2010, the second year of their takeback program.
The Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE), a statewide environmental organization (and a partner group in the Electronics TakeBack Coalition) has just release a new report called “Making TakeBack Work Better in Texas,” which analyzes the results from Year 2 of the Texas e-waste law. (They had to obtain most of the information by Freedom of Information request, because the Texas law doesn’t require public disclosure of each company’s efforts – something other states should be sure their laws DO require.)
Dell, Samsung, Sony and Altex Collect 92% of the Volume
The Texas law covers IT equipment – computers, monitors, laptops, but not televisions. (A bill to require takeback for TVs is under consideration this year.) The TCE report shows that for the second year in a row, many of the companies are doing NOTHING, with almost half of them reporting ZERO pounds collected. And while the total volume collected almost doubled from 2009 to 2010, only a small number of leadership companies are taking back most of the volumes. There were 78 companies selling computers in Texas in 2010. According to the TCE report, more than 92% of the 24 million pounds of electronic waste collected in 2010 was collected by only four manufacturers: Dell, Samsung, Sony and Altex Electronics (a small San Antonio based company). The remaining eight percent was collected by 38 manufacturers that do business in Texas. Thirty-six manufacturers collected zero pounds.
HP: Missing in Action
This is an atrocious discrepancy. Of course, we applaud Dell, Samsung, Sony, and Altex for taking the law seriously and for serving their customers in Texas with serious takeback efforts. In 2009, Dell alone accounted for 85% of the total 15 million pounds collected, so they are continuing their leadership here collecting over 10 million lbs.
But one of the most disappointing results in 2010 is HP’s performance. In 2010 HP collected a paltry 45,931 lbs. That’s 0.19 per cent of the total 24 million lbs. (Not 19%, but 0.19, as in less than 1 per cent.) HP has roughly the same market share as Dell (often a couple points more) in the U.S., so one would expect roughly the same effort at takeback. A small company like Altex, with nine stores and less than 250 employees, collected 2,679,924 lbs. HP has a large Texas presence resulting from acquiring Compaq (Houston) and EDS (Plano), but they are clearly making little effort in that state.
Another underperformer was Lenovo, which reported a whopping 10 pounds collected.
Laws Needed to Level the Playing Field
One of the important roles for state laws on e-waste recycling is that of leveling the playing field between companies’ takeback efforts. The companies clearly respond differently to the concept of “producer responsibility.” While the leaders like Dell, Samsung, Altex, and Sony should be commended for these efforts (and customers should definitely consider these efforts when we decide whose products to purchase), there may be a point when these companies decide to do less, as long as their competitors can get away with doing nothing. Instead, the point of the state laws should be to encourage everyone to do more. Clearly, we are seeing better results (higher volumes) in states like MN, OR, WA and others where there is language that mandates performance requirements for the companies, either as collection goals or convenience requirements (or a combination of the two). States should look carefully at these results from Texas, and move ahead by adopting stronger laws (even revising some existing laws) to encourage all the companies to make a real effort to take back and recycle our e-waste, keeping it out of our landfills.
Read report by Texas Campaign by the Environment.
The EPA has just released its “2009 Facts and Figures” on Municipal Solid Waste generated in the U.S. This new report shows that in 2009, as in previous years, the vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. is still ending up in our landfills and incinerators, with only 17.7 percent going to recyclers. This is a slight increase from 2008, when 13.6 was diverted for recycling. But it’s far lower than the recycling rate reported for the whole municipal waste stream, which was 33.8%.
Despite its name, this “municipal solid waste report” includes discards from consumers and businesses (but not industrial or hazardous waste). Residential waste accounts for 55-65% of the total wastes generated. This report groups electronics in with other “durable goods.” There’s not much more detail about e-waste volumes provided by the EPA – this is the only regular report issued that itemizes electronic waste.
Why E-waste doesn’t belong in the trash
Toxics inside. There are several reasons why electronic waste doesn’t belong in the trash. First, electronics typically contain many toxic chemicals, like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. Products sent to landfills will eventually break down over time. There are concerns that these toxins could leach into groundwater eventually. While some will argue that landfills linings will prevent this, it’s important to understand that in many areas, landfills were built before rules requiring double lining came into effect. Plus some experts argue that any landfill will fail eventually – maybe in 100 years, but eventually. Therefore, it’s inappropriate to bury these toxic chemicals for future generations to deal with.
Sometimes e-waste is sent to incinerators, particularly waste-to-energy incinerators. Here, the public health concern is about both the toxics being emitted into the atmosphere (especially the dioxins that can be emitted when plastics with halogenated flame retardants are burned) as well as the toxic “slag” left over – the stuff that didn’t get burned, or was “captured” as part of the emissions cleaning process.
Recoverable materials. Another reason not to throw electronics into the trash is that there are recoverable materials in them. Many of the metals used in electronics can be recovered for manufacturing new products. What a waste of a non-renewable resource to bury them in landfills. There have been reports from time to time (when scrap metal prices are high) of interest in “mining” our landfills – excavating buried items to recover the metals.
Limited landfill space. Electronics also take up a lot of room in the landfills – think of those big tube TVs and monitors, printers, VCRs, etc. Some states or counties are running out of room in their landfills, and its expensive to build new ones.
We Need Better Manufacturer Takeback Efforts
What will change these pathetic recycling numbers? One game changer would be for the manufacturers do more to take back and recycle their old products. Most of the computer and TV companies now have takeback programs, and they have policies in support of taking back and recycling their old products. But the volumes collected in most of these voluntary programs are very low, because the companies don’t make them convenient enough for people to really use them. We saw lots of Cs and Ds (and some F’s) in our Recycling Report Card, published last fall, partly due to low volumes. Just offering a mailback program isn’t enough – most people won’t use them. Most consumers are more willing to drop off old products at collection sites, convenient to where they are already going.
It’s disappointing, but the reality is that the most efforts by the manufacturer to recycle their products occur in the states that have strong laws mandating takeback – laws with either collection goals or convenience requirements. States like WA, OR, and MN. States with no takeback laws, or even those with laws that let the companies decide how hard to try at takeback, see very little manufacturer effort, with the notable exception of Dell and to some extent Samsung, who have developed collection networks even in states where the law does not require it. A good example is Texas, which has the “weak” law saying that computer companies must have takeback programs, but provides no benchmarks or drivers for collection. In 2009, Dell collected 85% of the total volume collected under that program. Most companies made no effort whatsoever. Even HP,which has just as many products coming back in the waste stream as Dell, collected only about 4.5%.
States that want to see these waste numbers change – to see e-waste get diverted from the trash and into recycling – need to pass strong laws, or strengthen their existing laws – to make sure that the manufacturers who make and profit from selling their products in the state are responsible for making sure these products are collected and responsibly recycled when consumers are done with them. Once the volumes coming back are high enough, that will serve as an important incentive for these companies to think about changing their designs to make the products more recyclable, and less toxic.
At CES it’s raining new products, but what about keeping all the old gadgets from getting tossed into the gutter?
Today begins the annual festival of colossal consumerism known as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which takes over Las Vegas every January. This huge international trade show features miles of aisles of companies with high tech booths, touting their new gadgets, each one faster, sleeker, smaller, cooler, androidier, and touch-screenier than that really ancient one you bought a whole year ago.
Approximately 20,000 new products will be launched at this event. The program has over 300 information sessions. Yet the “Technology and the Environment” category has only two sessions. CES turned down the Story of Stuff creator Annie Leonard’s request to speak, despite a timely message with the newly released Story of Electronics film. Of the 35 categories for CEA’s “Innovations Design and Engineering” awards, only one was for “Eco-Design and Sustainable Technology,” given to a company making a solar cell phone charger.
While the companies compete for media attention for all the new gadgets they are flooding into the marketplace, they make no mention about what we should do with all the old gadgets they want us to replace.
What’s wrong with Lenovo’s Recycling Program?
One company piling on to the new product band(width) wagon this week is computer maker Lenovo, the Chinese company that bought the IBM Thinkpad division several years ago, and is now the number four computer maker in the world. Lenovo has just unveiled new Thinkpads, Ideapads and a new tablet computer called LePad at CES. But Lenovo earned a D Minus on the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s Company Recycling Report Card, for having a weak takeback program, providing little transparency, and not using recycling vendors certified to (or in the process of getting certified to) high-bar recycling standards that forbid exporting toxic e-waste collected under their program to developing countries.
While Lenovo has begun to talk-the-talk on responsible recycling, we’d like to see them (and any other electronics company) show us proof that they are actually walking-the-walk.
We call on Lenovo to show its environmental leadership by:
>>Disclosing its recycling vendors. Many companies do this. Why not Lenovo? Transparency is vital on this issue.
>>Using recyclers certified to the rigorous e-Stewards standard, which is the only standard that does not allow e-waste dumping on developing countries. Lenovo says they have 11 vendors in the U.S. but it seems that most (nine) are certified to (or seeking certification to) the very weak R2 standard, which allows exporting e-waste to developing countries. In the absence of strong laws and regulations in this industry, companies should be using vendors certified to the strongest voluntary standards
>>Endorsing federal legislation to close the door on global e-waste dumping. HR 6252 will be reintroduced in the new Congress, and if Lenovo is serious about its policy of not exporting e-waste to developing countries, it should have no trouble endorsing the new bill.
Let Lenovo Hear From You
If you agree that Lenovo should be doing more, you can use our online action center to send an email to their CEO here. It takes just a minute.
Did the holidays bring you new gadgets? Here’s how to recycle your old ones.
Electronic gadgets were at the top of many holiday shopping lists again this year, with iPads and Kindles fueling a lot of the buying frenzy. The biggest sellers were e-readers, tablet computers, smart phones, HD TVs and video games consoles and accessories. The Consumer Electronics Association was predicting that the average consumer would spend $232 on electronics this holiday.
So what should you do with the old stuff – the items these shiny new gadgets replaced? Or the even older ones – the dead cell phones, PDAs, and iPods stashed in your dead gadget drawer, or the old printer or TV tucked away in the basement? It’s pretty easy to keep a recycling resolution, with the help of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s Guide To Recycling Your Electronics. Here are the basics, with a lot more information available on our web based Guide.
Don’t Trash Old Electronics
First, what not to do. The easiest (but worst) thing to do is to toss the old items in the trash. These gadgets contain toxic chemicals, which we don’t want seeping out of landfills and into groundwater, or getting emitted into our air from incinerators. Plus they take up a lot of room in overcrowded landfills. And many contain resources – especially metals – that can be recovered and reused. So while trashing electronics is still legal in many states, it’s not a good idea. (Check if it’s legal in your state – it might be time to contact your state legislators about tougher laws to keep e-waste out of the trash.)
There are often good options for reusing your old electronics. If your old item still works and is pretty current, it can probably be reused. Old tube TVs are usually the exception here, but computers and phones will probably have some reuse value as whole products or parts. Many cities have local, non-profit reuse organizations, which will refurbish electronics for use in local underserved communities. You can usually find these by contacting your local county solid waste agency. If you don’t find one, consider the National Cristina Foundation, which matches donated computers to charities and agencies, or World Computer Exchange, which sends requested working items to educational institutions in developing countries.
If reuse is not an option, then please take it to an electronics recycler. Please make sure your old product gets to a responsible recycler – one who will actually recycle it, and not ship it off to a developing nation, where old electronics are causing terrible health and environmental harm. The best way to do that is to work with a recycler who is part of the e-Stewards network. E-Stewards recyclers adhere to the highest standards in the industry, including a firm commitment not to export non-working or untested e-waste to developing nations.
If there is no e-Steward near you, then there are many takeback programs run by the manufacturers and retailers, most of which are free. See our website’s Guide to Recycling Your Electronics for information and links to all of these programs. Some of these programs have trade-in options, which will give you money back (or credit towards purchases) for certain items, especially cell phones and laptops. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s Guide to Recycling Your Electronics includes details on these trade-in options as well.
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching, many consumers have electronics at the top of their shopping lists. This holiday season, the average American is expected to spend over $230 (more than a third of their gift budget) on electronic products, up about 5% from last year.
Increasingly, shoppers are asking about green electronics; they want to use their consumer spending to support companies doing the right thing to make their products more eco-friendly. We applaud you who seek to spend your green on green.
But we hesitate to say there are truly “green” electronics at this point. This industry still has a long way to go (in finding safer chemicals, and using more recyclable materials and designs) before it can really claim to have “green” products. But still, it’s good to support the companies that are making efforts in the right direction, even if we are still at the baby-steps part of that long march towards green.
Luckily, there are some resources out there to help identify companies and products that are leading the way on key environmental issues, which you can find in our 2010 Holiday Shopping Guide For Finding Greener Electronics compiled by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a partner group in the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.
We wish we could tell you there was a single green label that would be a one-stop shop for finding truly greener gadgets. That was the idea behind the EPEAT label (currently available for business computers and monitors), but it’s simply too weak on key environmental criteria to be the only thing you look at, although we recommend EPEAT “Gold” rated products as one thing to consider. Instead, we have combined a few different resources, report cards, and other tools to make this as user-friendly as possible.
The shopping guide includes these resources, all in one handy printable reference:
- A side by side chart of the latest rankings from the Electronics TakeBack Coalition alongside the latest scores from Greenpeace, to give you a sense of what the top electronics companies are doing (and not doing) in the areas of chemicals, energy and e-waste takeback and recycling.
- A list of products “free” of brominated flame retardants and PVC, that are available in the United States. PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are hazardous substances that pose human health and environmental concerns and are being phased out by leading electronics manufacturers.
- NRDC’s Energy Efficient TV buying guide. NRDC has been a strong advocate for energy efficiency in electronics. Their new guide lists the 200 most energy efficient televisions available. NRDC also offers additional tips on how to minimize the energy use of TVs and some of the products connected to them (like video games and cable and satellite set top boxes).
The greenest gift of all
Given all the dated computers, cell phones, printers, VCRs, and other electronics that we all have piled up in our closets, we know that the greenest gadget is the one you don’t buy. Or at least the one you buy used. While this won’t satisfy those craving the latest gadgets, for many of the rest of us, buying refurbished electronics will work just fine. CEH’s website has resources for buying used electronics and for prolonging the life of your existing products.
But if you’re determined to buy electronic stuff this holiday season, don’t forget to bring along our guide when you go shopping. In addition to the Holiday Shopping Guide, CEH’s website offers concrete steps people can take at home , at work or at school to improve the sustainability of their electronics.
Judy Levin is the Pollution Prevention Coordinator at the Center for Environmental Health, a partner organization and Steering Committee Member of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.
Today is America Recycles Day. Lenovo should do its part.
With our new release of the Story of Electronics, we’ve been pushing computer giant Lenovo to really go green and “make ’em safe, make ’em last, and take ’em back.” Lenovo is saying they’re with us, but we want them to prove it.
Just last week, Lenovo posted on their corporate Facebook page that they are pulling in record profits and beating out their competitors like HP and Dell (who are doing much better on the responsible recycling front). So, we want Lenovo to put some of that money towards going green. Join us on Facebook and tell Lenovo to: Put your money where your mouth is and really go green!
Here’s what you can do:
- Get on Facebook
- “Like” Lenovo’s Fanpage http://www.facebook.com/lenovo
- Post something on their page – you can’t post on their wall, but can add a comment to their most recent comment. (Here are a few suggestions below, but be creative!)
- Put your money where your mouth is and really go green!
- Be a green leader and recycle it right!
- Walk the green walk, don’t just talk the green talk.
- Post the Story of Electronics on their page with the message: Make ’em Safe, Make ’em Last, Take ’em Back
- It’s America Recycles Day. Lenovo, you should do your part.
Please post by 5pm pacific time, on Monday Nov 15 – in honor of America Recycles Day.
We want Lenovo to be a green leader and commit to:
- Work only with recyclers who are certified to the rigorous e-Stewards recycling standard;
- Make a real effort to get back their products in the U.S., by offering convenient, well publicized collection sites in all states;
- Provide full transparency on their recycling vendors, detailed vendor requirements, and volumes collected by state;
- Support federal legislation to stop global e-waste dumping from the U.S.; and
- Design out the toxics and design in closed loop recycling, so products collected can be recycled into new Lenovo products
Send a strong message to Lenovo and join us on Facebook to tell them: Put your money where your mouth is and really go green!
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition and the Story of Stuff Project