E-Waste

E-Waste-gold-mine

Residential e-waste disposal is now illegal in NYC.  The New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act is in its final phases to address e-waste.

The statistics:

1. 80 to 85% of electronic products were discarded in landfills or incinerators, which can release certain toxics into the air.  http://ewasteguide.info/hazardous-substances

2. E-waste represents 2% of America’s trash in landfills, but it equals 70% of overall toxic waste. The extreme amount of lead in electronics alone causes damage in the central and peripheral nervous systems, the blood and the kidneys.

3. 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are disposed worldwide every year. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/faq.htm#general

4. Cell phones and other electronic items contain high amounts of precious metals like gold or silver. Americans dump phones containing over $60 million in gold/silver every year.

5. Only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled.  http://www.electronicstakeback.com/w

6. For every 1 million cell phones that are recycled, 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered.

7. Recycling 1 million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in a year.

8. E-waste is still the fastest growing municipal waste stream in America, according to the EPA.

9. A large number of what is labeled as “e-waste” is actually not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery.

10. It takes 539 lbs of fossil fuel, 48 lbs of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture one computer and monitor.

11. Electronic items that are considered to be hazardous include, but are not limited to: Televisions and computer monitors that contain cathode ray tubes, LCD desktop monitors, LCD televisions, Plasma televisions, Portable DVD players with LCD screens.

Our awakening environmental awareness and corresponding tightening of environmental regulations  increased our outrage to the disposal of hazardous wastes where we live thus escalating disposal costs. This pushed companies to seek cheaper disposal options for hazardous wastes in the developing world, where environmental awareness was less developed and regulations and enforcement mechanisms were lacking. The ugly underbelly of economic globalization uses the “competitive advantage” of cheap labour in poorer areas of the world to give them a disproportionate burden of toxic wastes, dangerous products and polluting technologies.  Developing countries are receiving low pay to perpetuate our most toxic industries becoming a global dumping ground for our toxic wastes at a high cost to their environments and health.

Unregulated, unprotected e-waste recycling

Unregulated, unprotected e-waste recycling

It was against this background that the Basel Convention was formed in 1989 to combat the “toxic trade”. The Basel Convention created a multilateral environmental agreement to pass a landmark decision that reverses this deadly trend and bans the export of hazardous waste from rich to poorer countries.

The provisions of the Convention center around the following principal aims:

  • the reduction of hazardous waste generation and the promotion of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, wherever the place of disposal;
  • the restriction of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management
  • a regulatory system applying to cases where transboundary movements are permissible.

The Basel BAN Amendment furthers this initiative with a trade barrier erected for the environment, and for human rights, supported by developing countries in recognition of the present disparate economic playing fields that, if exploited, will shift pollution problems to those least able to deal with them, rather than solve them at their source.

BAN, Basel Action Network,   http://www.ban.org  is the world’s only organization focused on confronting global environmental injustice, economic inefficiency of toxic trade and its devastating impacts. Working at the nexus of human rights and the environment, they confront the issues of environmental justice at a macro level  in support of the principle of global environmental justice where no peoples or environments are dispro-portionately poisoned and polluted due to the dictates of unbridled market forces and trade.  BAN’s mission is to protect the groundbreaking, precedent-setting BAN Amendment from attack by industry and free-trade zealots who see it as a threat to globalization-as-usual.    BAN also promotes sustainable, fair solutions to our consumption/waste crises by banning hazardous waste trade and promoting green, toxic free democratically designed consumer products.

BAN is a charitable organization based in Seattle, Washington working domestically and globally with a focus in Europe (due to strong leadership in global environmental initiatives), Asia (due to being primary victim area of toxic trade) and in the USA (due to poor record of global stewardship and their indiscriminate dumping of toxic wastes such as electronic waste and toxic ships). Its sad to learn that San Francisco’s A rating was the focus of a BAN mission so this is not only global issue. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video/10263296-californias-e-waste-creating-toxic-mountain-in-arizona/

The “effluent of the affluent” is a by product of what became known as the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard).  In the name of development, globalisation and free trade, it is, in fact, a violation of environmental justice and can be considered a crime against the environment and human rights. It is vital to halt this unsustainable and unacceptable trade not only as it disproportionately destroys the environment and health of those in developing countries, but because such “environmental cost externalisations” serve as a disincentive to sustainable global solutions.  Greening our manufacturing processes and products through “green design” and through “toxics use reductions” is a much Better Way.

http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-electronics/  The Story of Electronics, released in November 2011, employs the Story of Stuff style to explore the high-tech revolution’s collateral damage—25 million tons of e-waste and counting, poisoned workers and a public left holding the bill. Host Annie Leonard takes viewers from the mines and factories where our gadgets begin to the horrific backyard recycling shops in China where many end up. The film concludes with a call for a green ‘race to the top’ where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products that are fully and easily recyclable.

How You Can Help:

  • Go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/html/faq/dispose.shtml and learn how to discard all waste.
  • Go to http://www.electronicstakeback.com/w to learn how to discard e-waste.  Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot are heading take back programs.  Push your favorite big box retailer to follow their lead.  Amazon.com could also use some pressure to facilitate take backs for their suppliers.
  • Become knowledgeable about your electronic devices.  These tools serve us in important ways but they are also taking a toll on our environment and our health.
  • Electronics can no longer be discarded in your residential garbage.

Until next week,

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 12.40.48 PMGarbage Girl

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