Responsible e-waste recycling
by Dan Matsch, Daily Camera
15 November 2008 –
Boulder County viewers who caught the CBS "60 Minutes" expose on electronics recycling on Nov. 9 may have been left with a bad feeling in the pit of their stomachs, wondering if that could have been their old computer polluting that Chinese village and its residents.
In China, "60 Minutes" uncovered that discarded electronics were being handled under horrendous conditions for both workers and the environment. Could it have been Boulder County's electronic waste (e-waste) that was illegally dumped and burned in China -- scarring workers, filling their lungs with toxic fumes and poisoning local water supplies? Possibly, if you took your materials to one of the "free" computer collection events held in our community.
Executive Recycling, the target of the "60 Minutes" undercover sting, has sponsored free computer recycling events in Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and the surrounding areas over the past few years.
However, if you took your computer or other electronics to the Eco-Cycle/City of Boulder Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) facility and paid the small fee for recycling, you can rest assured that your materials were handled domestically and responsibly, and that nearly 100 percent of the components of your e-waste was recycled to the highest level possible. You can know that, not just because we tell you so, but because Eco-Cycle became a proud signer of the watchdog group Basel Action Network's (BAN) e-Stewardship pledge several years ago. We were one of the first to do so.
In its seven years, the CHaRM has always charged for electronic items, and that's because there is a cost to dismantling these complicated and toxic electronic devices responsibly, domestically and in a way that protects both the worker and the ecosystem. We have been well aware of the nightmarish conditions that are created when "recyclers" dump these materials in Asia, and we have been vigilant in avoiding these markets. Eco-Cycle has warned local communities, schools, businesses and fellow recyclers that any company taking e-waste for "free" is likely taking it at a tremendous cost to the environment and populations overseas.
In an effort to prevent future fraudulent and dangerous "recycling" collections, Eco-Cycle and 32 other e-Stewardship pledge signers joined BAN and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition on Nov. 10 to announce the expansion of the pledge into the e-Stewards Initiative--the first program to fully certify North America's most responsible e-waste recyclers.
The e-Stewards Initiative will become the first independently audited and accredited electronic waste recycler certification program. It forbids the dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries, local landfills and incinerators and disallows the use of prison labor and the unauthorized release of private data.
The certified and audited program separates the legitimate recyclers from the low-road operators. This way, consumers, schools, communities and large businesses can know that by choosing an e-Steward recycler, they are assured that their old computers and TVs will be safely managed.
Be sure your e-waste won't be added to the piles and the devastation you saw in China. Ask if your recycler is a BAN pledge signer.
If you missed the "60 Minutes" piece, you can find a link to it at www.ecocycle.org. While there you can also learn more about BAN, the TakeBack Coalition and the pledge and share the information with your friends.
Dan Matsch is the manager for the Eco-Cycle/City of Boulder Center-for-Hard-to-Recycle Materials.
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