Monday, March 26, 2007

E-Waste: A Mounting Concern

E-Waste (or, what happens to those lovely iPods and Treos and desktop machines after you upgrade to The Next Hottest Thing) has been a bit of a fascination of mine since I started working with 5-Trees, LLC last year. In my research for their marketing materials and website, as well as for another client’s website that’s going to be released in the next month or two, I learned that electronic waste is the fastest-growing wastestream on the planet. Over 30 million computers get thrown out each year in the United States ALONE. And when these electronics end up in the landfill (a rather overwhelming number of them still do), they release all their inner toxins, like mercury and other nastiness, into the groundwater.

According to a recent article in PLENTY magazine (E-Waste Not, Plenty Magazine April-May 2007, p. 31), there is a growing e-cycling movement, but the actual process of recycling electronics is labor-intensive and costly, and thus, many “recyclers” are actually just re-selling old electronics to “brokers who ship them to developing countries with lax environmental standards and cheap labor.” The article also suggests that, according to the Basel Action Network, 50-80% of US electronics are shipped to India, China and parts of Africa, and often they aren’t recycled at all – the workers there take the most valuable bits and dump the rest. Not very nice, is it?

The good news is that the industry seems to be waking up. The Basel Action Network, a non-profit which monitors toxic waste, lists over 40 e-cyclers on their website that have taken the BAN pledge to make sure their e-waste is actually recycled and taken apart the right way. Washington and Maine are starting to require manufacturers to take back their equipment for recycling, and Maryland is starting a pilot program that requires counties to collect and properly recycle them.

And what about Massachusetts (my home state)? Well, honestly I haven’t seen anything here. The BAN site lists WeRecycle! in Connecticut as the closest BAN-pledge acceptor, and a quick Google Search for “mass electronics recyclers” brought up quite a bit of info, including this site that lets you search for a local recycler throughout Massachusetts. It’s a bit clunky, but I was able to find about 26 folks that would take cell phones. When you’re ready to recycle, do a search and call around to a couple of places, and call to ask them what they do with your old stuff. And while you're at it - ask them to take the BAN pledge (note: the following link is a PDF on the BAN website. Don't ask me why - it doesn't need to be.)!

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