Another Spin: E-waste recycler faces criticism
by Debbie Spingarn (Columnist), Norwood Bulletin
15 March 2010 (Norwood) – My neighbor has an old television set sitting next to the curb, awaiting pickup. It’s been there for weeks. Because nothing like this can be put in a landfill, Norwood has hazardous waste pickups and disposals.
If you want to avoid the higher price tag for household pickup of hazardous waste, take stock of old electronic equipment like TVs and computers, and ready them for disposal at Norwood’s electronic recycling day in early May. There, you drive to a site where volunteers take your hazardous waste from your car and prepare it for removal and transport.
Now that many residents have upgraded from cathode ray TVs to flat-screens, there is a huge amount of electronic waste. Glass in old TVs is full of lead, a hazardous waste. Our country is the world’s largest producer of “e-waste.” But it’s unclear where all of this waste ends up, even that which is supposed to be recycled.
An environmental activist group, Basel Action Network, claims that CRT Recycling, Inc., of Brockton, which, among other things, contracts with Norwood to recycle e-waste, has violated an international treaty called the Basel Convention by exporting cathode ray tubes to Indonesia to be disposed of illegally. Based on information from Basel Action Network, Indonesian authorities recently rejected nine shipping containers from CRT and sent them back to Massachusetts.
The United States has not ratified the Basel Convention. CRT was not charged with violating any laws and, according to a report in the Boston Globe, the Environmental Protection Agency released the containers back to CRT.
Peter Kopcych, the company’s general manager, said CRT sends working equipment to other countries to be reused, which BAN disputes. But the dispute, as the Boston Globe recently outlined in an editorial, has to do more with ill-defined export rules than anything else.
Twenty to 50 million tons of e-waste is generated every year and 50 to 80 percent of it is exported to third-world countries, according to Metech Recycling of Worcester, a recycler that has pledged not do dump material in landfills or export to developing nations.
Towns should be performing physical audits, as well as audits of CRT’s downstream vendors, if they choose to continue with this recycler. Countries in Asia and Africa do not want e-waste, which, BAN claims, is shipped to them under the guise that many of the electronics can be repaired. If a recycler were found to be doing this, the ethical position would be to choose another recycler.
Our old televisions, computers, printers, monitors, personal electronic devices, and other electronics contain lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, phosphorous and other toxins that should never end up in a landfill or be dumped onto the soils of other countries that have no resources with which to dispose of them. BAN states that 80 percent of e-waste consumers deliver to such recyclers are not recycled at all. Instead, according to BAN, the waste is shipped to impoverished countries in Asia and Africa where it is smashed, burned, melted, or chemically treated in very dangerous backyard operations.
With Town Meeting approaching, members need to bring up the issue of our e-waste vendor, if not before then. Most of us cart our electronics to waste recycling day while leaving the task of learning where it goes up to our town management.
We owe it to ourselves and the health of the world to investigate this important issue.
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