TOPICS: US dumps e-waste on poor countries

US citizens will buy 30 million new digital televisions this year alone, sending their old lead-laden TVs to the dump, or more likely, overseas to China or India. “It’s an astonishing number that will send millions of pounds of lead to landfills or overseas,” said Barbara Kyle, coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Non-digital TVs contain up to eight pounds of lead, which is a potent neurotoxin. While new digital flat screen TVs don’t have lead, they contain mercury, another neurotoxin.

“It’s no longer illegal in the US to export e-waste (electronic waste) to developing countries,” Kyle said. Changes in rules and regulations in recent years to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency, have created an “appalling system that makes it easy to dump e-waste on the developing world”, she said. The act states that exports of hazardous waste can only go forward after the receiving country has officially agreed to accept it.

However, loopholes and exemptions mean hardly any e-waste is considered hazardous and is therefore legal for export without informing recipient countries. Just recently, changes by the US administration allows monitors and TVs that all contain mercury and lead to be exported as long as they are going for recycling. Despite being the largest producer of e-waste, the US has refused to sign the international Basel Convention to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste.The Coalition launched a Take-Back-My-TV campaign this week to pressure television manufacturers to create voluntary TV recycling programmes. It urges the public to contact the heads of major TV manufacturers to take responsibility for the proper disposal of products they make. Sony has already agreed and will now take back old TVs at 75 retail stores free of charge.

Ironically, the same companies that resist national and state e-waste rules in the US have to comply with Europe’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. It sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods and makes manufacturers responsible for disposal. Considered the best e-waste programme, it’s not working all that well, according to a new report released Nov. 15 in Bonn, Germany.

Europe also has the problem of dumping e-waste on developing countries, despite the practice being illegal.Investigations have found cargo containers going to Africa supposedly full of used but still functional computers and monitors that in fact were 90 per cent e-waste. “Used cars are being shipped to other countries crammed with e-waste, said Ruediger Kuehr of the UN University.

Europe needs to modify the WEEE Directive to focus on both enforcement and collection, the report suggests. And major efforts are needed to increase public awareness of the need to properly recycle e-waste,” he said. “If manufacturers can figure out how to get us to buy their products, I think they could find ways to get us to bring them back,” said Kyle. — IPS