Could your computer become a toxic threat?
by Robert McClure, Seattle Post Intelligencer
10 November 2008 – You -- you with the old computers stored in the attic! Planning to "recycle" them anytime soon? If so you might want to hold off a bit. Today, environmental activists announced that they are setting up a system to independently verify old computers and other electronic waste really are safely recycled rather than ending up a toxic trash in the Third World.
We started writing about this "dirty little secret of the high-tech revolution" six years ago based on an investigation by the Seattle-based Basel Action Network. Although many opportunities have sprung up to supposedly safely recycle computers, mobile phones, televisions and the like, BAN says much of this is sham recycling. So they're setting up a system to independently verify the claims of safe recycling. It's something like the work of the Forest Stewardship Council, which certifies that lumber is being produced sustainably.
BAN's Jim Puckett described returning to the sham recycling shops in Guiyu, China, where for the 2002 report he saw clouds of a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid poofing skyward and witnessed workers dumping a toxic gray sludge by a river. He recently returned:
"It was a great opportunity for us to come back and observe the difference. It has gotten far, far worse."
BAN's Sarah Westervelt noted that when the 2002 report came out, BAN could only advise consumers to hang on to their e-junk. Now, though:
"Consumers are quite shocked that giving their waste to a recycler in no way ensures it's going to be recycled."
Representatives of e-waste recyclers that BAN says are doing their work the right way acknowledge that many of their brethren are getting away with seriously dangerous environmental and worker-safety practices. One was Bob Houghton, president of Redemtech:
"Many companies in our industry are -- and just to put it bluntly -- fraudulent."
Following on the heels of a "60 Minutes" story last night, the activists pointed out that the company "60 Minutes" cameras caught doing the dangerous exports is listed as an A-OK recycler at the mygreenelectronics.com, an industry-sponsored site.
Your intrepid Dateline Earth correspondent stirred himself to make a phoner on today's announcement at the crack of 8 a.m. Pacific Time. I don't see a lot of news stories about this yet, but here is a blog post that at least walks you through the "60 Minutes" piece. Here is BAN's explanation of the forthcoming certification program.
When will you be able to recycle that old box and monitor? BAN says it will have its system in place in 2010.
Update 1:56 p.m.: Cupla things:
- Oops! I forgot to include this link to BAN's list of e-stewards, who are actually doing safe recycling and will be covered by the new certification system.
- I totally forgot to mention this recent Government Accountability Office report showing how right BAN is on this topic.
- It looks like BAN's list of approved recyclers may come in handy right quick, according to this press release by the state Department of Ecology, which reminds us that many Americans will (unnecessarily, in many cases) toss their old TVs when programming goes digital in February 2009.
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