When getting rid of electronic waste, look for a reputable recycler
by Alan Choate, Daily Herald
21 May 2006 –
There is a dark side to electronic recycling -- the practice in many Third World countries of scavenging materials and components in ways that are dangerous to the environment and human health.
The Basel Action Network, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Greenpeace and other organizations have documented pollution cases in India, Pakistan and China of communities "where labor is cheap and environmental protections are inadequate," according to a BAN report.
It cited examples of "open burning of plastic waste, exposure to toxic solders, river dumping of acids, and widespread general dumping," and noted that in Guiyu, China, a booming destination for electronic waste from around the world, the water has become so toxic that fresh water has to be trucked in from elsewhere.
China has banned the importation of electronic waste, and in its recently passed recycling measure Washington state banned the export of e-waste. Enforcement, however, is another issue.
"It's hard for a state to control that," said Brad Mertz, executive director of the Recycling Coalition of Utah. "One of the ways that these things are getting into these countries is that they are being 'reused'" -- that is, they're imported as used but usable items, even though they're mostly junk headed for the scrap mills.
There are many honest recyclers of electronics, however, but consumers who want to do the right thing with their old computer or cell phone should ask a few questions:
Ask where the materials go and what is done with usable machinery and components
Find out if the company exports the materials or uses prison labor
Ask about data destruction and whether hard drives are wiped clean
If donating the equipment, find out who the recipients are and if only working equipment is shipped.
Reputable recyclers and brokers should be able to provide upfront answers to these questions. Consumers can also contact the manufacturer of their electronic goods to ask about takeback programs.
The state of Utah recently signed a contract with Colorado-based Guaranteed Recycling Xperts, or GRX, to pick up, transport and process e-waste for any government agency or political subdivision in the state.
The company works with many advocacy groups and separates glass, plastic and metals from everything from computers to old stereos.
The leaded glass from cathode ray tubes, which provide the picture on television screens and computer monitors, is really only usable for other CRTs, which are rapidly being replaced by flat-panel screens. GRX sends this glass to a smelter in Missouri where the lead is recovered and resold.
Plastic components are sent to Recovery Plastics International in Salt Lake City, which sorts the material and then processes it into raw material for use by plastics manufacturers.
GRX works with several metal recyclers in the U.S. and in Europe to send aluminum, steel, copper, tin, brass and precious metals back into the production stream.
The company boasts that it keeps 95 percent of the materials it handles out of landfills and incinerators.
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