30 Million Lead-laden TVs Dumped on Poor Countries

“The US has an appalling system that makes it easy to dump e-waste on the developing world.”Barbara Kyle, Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

By Stephen LeahyCopyright EMPA, Switzerland

Nov 21 (IPS) – U.S. citizens will buy 30 million new digital televisions this year alone, sending their old lead-laden TVs to the dump, or more likely, overseas to China or India.

“It’s an astonishing number that will send millions of pounds of lead to landfills or overseas,” said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

Non-digital TVs contain up to eight pounds of lead, which is a potent neurotoxin. While new digital flat screen TVs don’t have lead, they do contain mercury, another neurotoxin.

“It’s no longer illegal in the U.S. to export e-waste (electronic waste) to developing countries,” Kyle said.

Changes in rules and regulations in recent years to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have created an “appalling system that makes it easy to dump e-waste on the developing world”, she said.

The act states that exports of hazardous waste can only go forward after the receiving country has officially agreed to accept it.

However, loopholes and exemptions mean hardly any e-waste is considered hazardous and is therefore legal for export without informing recipient countries. Just recently, changes by the Bush administration allows computer monitors and TVs that all contain mercury and lead to be exported as long as they are going for recycling, Kyle says.

cempa_open_burning_640x640-1.jpgDespite being the largest producer of e-waste, the U.S. has refused to sign the international Basel Convention to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries.

The Coalition launched a Take-Back-My-TV campaign this week to pressure television manufacturers to create voluntary TV recycling programmes. It urges the public to contact the heads of major TV manufacturers to take responsibility for the proper disposal of products they make.

Electronics giant Sony has already agreed and will now take back old TVs at 75 retail stores free of charge.

“We’d like all major manufacturers and retailers to join Sony on this,” she said.

Kyle notes that companies will need to responsibly recycle e-waste and not dump it overseas or use prison labour in the U.S. Prisoners do not have standard U.S. labour rights or protections.

According to the Coalition, more than 400 million electronic devices are thrown away each year and just 12 percent are recycled. The rest — some 2.3 million tonnes — is shipped overseas, dumped into landfills or incinerated.

Despite the high value of some of this waste and its known toxicity, the main reason it isn’t recycled is that the United States does not have any national e-waste legislation. Only nine states have e-waste recycling programmes, and five of those just started this year. Since it is very expensive and dangerous for states to handle e-waste at traditional landfills, many more states are expected to shift the burden to the manufacturers in the coming year.

Minnesota’s new e-waste regulations state that manufacturers must process e-waste in proportion to their annual sales by weight. In the first years, the target is 60 percent and in later years 80 percent, Kyle says, adding, “This is a model I hope other states will adopt.”

Ironically, the same companies that resist national and state e-waste rules in the U.S. have to comply with Europe’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive). It sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods and makes manufacturers responsible for disposal.

For full story click An E-Waste Free-for-All

See related articles:

40 Million Tonnes of Electronic Waste Each Year

Greener Cell Phones Thanks to European Laws

2 thoughts on “30 Million Lead-laden TVs Dumped on Poor Countries

  1. Great piece. We had a columnist cover this sad practice while I was at my college newspaper in Austin, Texas. We got mail from all over the world thanking us for raising the issue as you have.

    This may not be a big story in North America (for obvious reasons) but the countries hosting this toxic waste sure are talking about it.

    Well done.

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