In the U.S., we are purchasing new and improved electronic products like TVs, printers, laptops, computer monitors and MP3 players faster than ever. The problem is we are also disposing of outdated electronic products (e-waste) just as fast and often improperly.
Our used electronic products contain toxic substances like lead, mercury, cadmium and toxic flame retardants. When improperly handled, workers and the environment can be harmed in ways you may never have realized.
For example, it is estimated 50 percent of the e-waste generated in the U.S. and Canada is being sent to India, China and Africa. Why? Simple economics: It costs a fraction of what it would cost to dispose of it properly at home. More troubling — it is a common practice in India, China and Africa for adults and children to make money "backyard recycling" scrap electronic products. Unprotected workers heat the products over open fires to remove reusable components. They soak what remains in acid baths to extract reclaimable metals. In the process, these "backyard recyclers" are exposed to a variety of toxic substances. Toxic residuals from this process are also polluting local water, soil and the air.
Backyard recycling is such a widespread practice in Bangalore, India that Dr. Thuppil Venkatesh, advisor to the National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning in India, reports 53 percent of the children under 12 in Bangalore have elevated lead levels in their blood, which is resulting in brain damage and is restricting their ability to learn.
This is too big a price to pay to avoid paying the going rate to responsibly dispose of our used electronic equipment. There ought to be a law, you say?
The majority of western countries, with the exceptions of the U.S. and Canada, have enacted rules to prevent the improper disposal of e-waste and support an international treaty (the Basel Convention) that bans trans-border shipments. While well-meaning, they've proven not be very enforceable. Too often, European e-waste is exported under the guise of being "reusable gifts."
In the absence of federal legislation, 12 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces have recognized the seriousness of this problem and have gone ahead and enacted laws requiring the proper disposal of electronic products. Responsible manufacturers like Sony, Samsung and Nokia have also introduced their own product take-back. This patchwork of policies is not an effective approach.
It's time for our federal government to produce uniform e-waste rules that can be enforced. Tough rules are the only way to ensure our e-waste stops being sent to developing countries, where it is being crudely handled in a manner we would never allow here.
E-waste should be an issue for everyone in the electronics' industry. You can read more about this problem and sign a pledge voicing your concern at www.newark.com/ewaste.
We'll then keep you informed of progress in this area and let you know how you can make a difference.