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MCC Daily Tribune Archive

Green Tip of the Week: E-Waste - Know Where Your Garbage is Going

Before you drop off your old computer, cell phone, BlackBerry or any other e-waste you may have, make sure you know where your waste is going. Companies all over the country are taking consumer e-waste and unethically and illegally shipping it overseas to towns such as Guiyu, China, where the individuals living in this community are being poisoned each day!

60 Minutes did a story on American e-waste and the companies who collect it and the communities that live with it. 

Who Was Following Whom? 60 Minutes' Solly Granatstein On Being Tailed On the Toxic Trail in China


“E-waste is junked old computers, TV's, cell phones, printers, most of it toxic, and much coming to this shabby corner of China from wealthier environs like America.”  

Our best intentions to be green have ended up poisoning children in Guiyu, China, to where their lead levels and other dangerous materials in these products have and continue to cause permanent brain damage and birth defects, where the air quality is at poisonous levels, and where the precious metal mine workers show up at work each day because the pay is better. 

“The place was a hell on earth of acrid smoke and noxious smells. The pungent air scorched the back of our throats.” 

Americans throw out 130,000 computers each day and 100 million cell phones each year – not to mention the TV’s and other electronic equipment tossed.  We have developed a culture where our electronics are disposable as soon as the next best thing comes out on the market.  This lifestyle has not come without a huge cost to human life. 

E-recycling companies all across America claim to recycle our e-waste responsibly. As discovered in the 60 minutes story, on too many occasions this does not happen. Companies will tell you that they are disposing of the waste in non-hazardous ways, but will then ship the items overseas to communities who burn the components and pollute the air. This waste is illegally exported to poor, remote towns and villages where community members are more willing to accept the waste.  Why? With the waste comes employment opportunities and money to feed themselves and their families. How can this possibly happen? 

Taken from the website <>

GAO Releases New Report on Toxic E-Waste Export: EPA unable to enforce rules, holds "little concern for the environment in other countries"

17 September 2008 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report on electronic waste today during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national coalition of environmental and consumer groups promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry, applauded the report, hailing it as the U.S. government’s first comprehensive look at the magnitude of the problem of exporting toxic e-waste to developing nations.

The report finds that few regulations exist to control this problem, and that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fails to enforce those that do exist, which only cover old cathode ray tube TVs and monitors. To test compliance with the regulations, the GAO posed as foreign buyers of broken cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and found 43 U.S. companies willing to ignore the EPA CRT rule and export nonworking CRT monitors to foreign countries in direct opposition to U.S. regulations. Some of these are companies who promote themselves publicly as environmentally responsible companies, with at least 3 of them holding Earth Day electronics recycling events in 2008.

The GAO’s findings include:

"US regulatory controls do little to stem the export of potentially hazardous used electronics."
"US Exports of potentially harmful used electronics flow virtually unrestricted."
Existing regulations focus only on CRTs, but companies easily circumvent the CRT regulations, because they are confident that they will not get caught.

"EPA has done little to enforce the CRT rule" which went into effect in January 2007. Only one company has been fined so far, and that July 2008 penalty resulted from a problem the GAO identified.

The EPA does not plan to enforce the CRT regulations. "They have no plans, and no timetable for developing the basic components of an enforcement strategy…"

So, how can you make sure that your e-waste recycling company is not illegally shipping waste overseas?  The Basel Action Network certifies ethical recyclers right here in the U.S. <>.  You can check out the company you plan on recycling with to make sure that they are ethical re-cyclers. 

Susan Bender
MCC Sustainability Committee