Accra, Ghana, 2009 ©2009 Basel Action Network (BAN)

As flat screen TVs, personal computers, and iPhones grow ever more popular, electronic waste (or e-waste)  piles up!  E-waste is toxic.  Many cities and states in the U.S. have passed laws and resolutions to keep e-waste out of our own landfills and away from water supplies.

Sadly, this e-waste often ends up in other countries, where workers without proper health or environmental protection break apart the machines for very low wages.

According to the Electronics Takeback Coalition (ETC), the U.S. “export[s] enough e-waste each year to fill 5126 shipping containers (40 ft x 8.5 ft).  If you stacked them up, they’d reach 8 miles high – higher than Mt Everest, or commercial flights.”

Many sham “recycling” companies in the U.S. ship toxic, unworking, and un-usable electronics to poorer nations.  Other recycling companies, like Eugene’s own NextStep Recycling, have taken it upon themselves to protect workers and the environment.  They have voluntarily become qualified by the Basel Action Network (BAN) under the Electronic Recyclers Pledge of True Stewardship program.  This means they have pledged to keep toxic e-waste out of developing countries, and instead, break apart and recycle their e-waste in a responsible and safe manner.  A new bill pending in Congress would ensure all companies in the U.S. are keeping our toxic e-waste out of developing countries.

On Sept 29, 2010, Representative Gene Green of Texas introduced H.R.  6252 in Congress, a bill that would make it illegal to send toxic e-waste to developing nations.  According to ETC’s website, the new bill:

“creates a new section of the federal RCRA law, that prohibits the export of “restricted electronic waste” from the U.S. to developing nations.  While tested and working equipment can still be exported to promote reuse, other consumer electronic equipment, parts, and material derived from them (such as shredded material) that contain toxic chemicals could not be exported to developing nations.”

Accra, Ghana, 2009 ©2009 Basel Action Network (BAN)

Of course, there are exceptions to the export restriction: products subject to a recall; processed leaded glass cullet, which has been cleaned and prepared as feedstock into a glass-to-glass recycling plant in a country that does not classify it as a hazardous waste; and products covered by manufacturer warranties that are going back to the manufacturers that made them.  ETC goes on to say that:

“Importing countries must give their consent to accept all of the exempted exports.  This approach is consistent with the policy most other developed nations have adopted via international treaties – the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment.”

Go to the ETC’s website for a summary and full text of the bill, and more information.

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager