By Francis Koster, Ed.D.

The US disposes of 130,000 computers a day.[1] That is roughly 47,450,000 computers per year. Each computer contains 4-8 pounds of lead and other toxins.[2] Pcmag.com stated the United States properly recycles only 10 percent of its e-waste.[3] That leaves 90 percent of recyclable electronic material to end up in landfills. “In California alone, 6,000 computers become obsolete each day. Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10 percent are actually recycled.” [4] California has done something successful to help this e-waste problem: California legislators passed laws that regulate e-waste and e-waste practices to help fund e-waste management.[5] This legislation could be a national model.

According to EPA estimates, in 1999 a total of 10,562,000 tons of electronics reached their end of life (EOL). Of this, 157,000 tons of EOL material were recycled, or 14.9 percent.  By 2007, the EPA estimated a total of 22,517,000 tons of electronic waste had reached their EOL, and 414,000 tons was recycled.[6]

The California Department of Toxic Substance Control states that the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA) was signed into law on September 24, 2003; then amended on September 29, 2004.[7]

One of the major objectives of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act, as amended, is to establish a new program for consumers to return, recycle, and ensure the safe and environmentally sound disposal of video display devices, such as televisions and computer monitors that are hazardous wastes when discarded. On January 1, 2005, California consumers began paying a fee of $6 to $10 at the time they purchase certain video display devices. Those fees are deposited into a special account that is used to pay qualified e-waste collectors and recyclers to cover the costs of managing e-waste. California’s Restriction on the use of Hazardous Substance is legislation that helps regulate e-waste by restricting the production of potential e-waste pollution produced by the manufacturing of such products. [8][9] This regulation limits the amount of toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, etc. that makes up certain covered electronics.[10]

 


References:

[1] Scott Pelley interviewsed Allen Hershkowitz for an article titled Following The Trail Of Toxic E-waste. Allen Hershkowitz is the senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel. This story was first published on Nov. 9, 2008. It was updated on Aug. 27, 2009. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/11/06/60minutes/main4579229.shtml

[2] http://greenerchoices.org/products.cfm?product=0111ewaste

[3] Matthew Sarrel: Recycling e-waste, November, 26 2006 this was a statistic that http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2064151,00.asp

[4] Andrew Zangilli is an attorney and senior producer in the Sunnyvale office of FindLaw. http://technology.findlaw.com/articles/00006/010271.html

[5] http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/EWaste/MoreInfo.cfm

[6] These numbers were used in conjunction with the data found on Approach 1: Model 1 from the EPA’s website http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/materials/ecycling/manage.htm referred to by Jenny Stephenson from the U.S. EPA Office of Resource Conservation & Recovery

[7] The EWRA signed September 24, 2003 was amended by SB 50 (Stats. 2004, ch. 863). Along with limiting the amount of toxins used, Manufacturers of covered electronic devices are required to provide information to the CIWMB, demonstrating their efforts to: 1) reduce the levels of toxic substances in electronic devices they produce; 2) increase the use of recyclable materials in their products; and 3) provide outreach programs to consumers (Public Resource Code Section 42465.2).

[8] The California Department of Toxic Substance Control http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/EWaste/MoreInfo.cfm

[9] California Integrated Waste Management Board http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/RuleArchive/2008/EWaste/default.htm

[10] Tri Products, Inc is an example of a California based recycling company benefitting from the Restriction on the use of Hazardous Substance legislation and the Electronic Waste Recycling Act. It is successfully helping the reduction of e-waste introduced to landfills.

 

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