By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 14 (IPS)
Is your old TV poisoning a child in China? Or your old computer contaminating a river in Nigeria?
Without a law banning export of toxic electronic waste in the United States, there has been no way to know if old cell phones, computers or televisions originating there didn’t end up in some poor village in the developing world, where desperate people pull them apart by hand to recover some of the valuable metals inside.
A small group of people have now allied with a few responsible recyclers to ensure e-waste can be treated responsibly by creating an e-Stewards certification programme. Announced this week, e-Stewards are electronics waste recyclers that are fully accredited and certified by an independent third party.
Such accreditation is crucial in an industry that often makes fraudulent claims. Currently even when e-waste (electronic trash) goes to a “green” recycler, the chances are high that toxic stuff from the developed world ended up in a huge pile in the middle of some village.
The U.S. generates an estimated three million tonnes of electronic waste, such as cell phones and computers, each year. U.S. citizens bought some 30 million television sets this year and that number will be higher next year as all U.S. TV networks switch to digital broadcasts Feb. 17.
So where do these old, unwanted TVs go?
One destination is Hong Kong, activists say.
“I recently watched shipping containers loaded in the U.S. being opened on the docks in Hong Kong,” said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network (BAN), an NGO named for the treaty that is supposed to stop rich countries from dumping toxic waste on poor ones.
“Inside they were packed with e-waste, including TVs and computer monitors,” Puckett told IPS.
Puckett estimated that 100 containers of e-waste arrive in Hong Kong every day and are then smuggled into China. “It’s all coming from the U.S. and Canada but I couldn’t see everything that was going on,” he said.
Much of this activity is illegal in China. But it is a very big and profitable industry so many officials in China and elsewhere are willing to look the other way, he said.
Sixty Minutes, a prominent weekly U.S. news programme, aired an investigative documentary film (video) this week about Puckett’s claims and tracked shipping containers from U.S. recyclers to Hong Kong to villages in China like Guiyu. “We were in Guiyu over six years ago and conditions are far worse today,” he said.
The mountain of e-waste grows each day as new electronic devices are created to drive an economy rooted in endless growth. And consider that 85 percent of e-waste goes in landfills or is incinerated locally, contaminating the United States’ groundwater and air. Millions more stockpiled computers, monitors and TV are sitting in basements, garages, offices and homes.
So what’s a responsible person to do with their e-waste in the face of government negligence, manufacturers’ irresponsibility and recyclers’ greed?
“With little likelihood of a federal law under the [George W.] Bush administration we decided to work with the recycling industry,” said Sarah Westervelt of BAN.
Together with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and 32 electronics recyclers in the United States and Canada, BAN announced an e-Stewards programme this week. It will be the continent’s first independently audited and accredited electronic waste recycler certification programme. Dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries, local landfills and incinerators will be forbidden, as will the use of prison labour to process e-waste.
For complete story see Where That “Recycled” E-Waste Really Goes
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