National Geographic Puts E-Waste Under Microscope

by | Jan 14, 2008

According to the U.S. EPA, 30-40 million PCs will be ready for “end-of-the-life management” in each of the next few years.  The EPA also estimated that in 2005, between 1.5 and 1.9 million tons of computers, TVs, VCRs, monitors, cell phones and other equipment were discarded.  If all sources of e-waste are counted, the UN Environment Program estimates that it could total 50 million tons a year worldwide.  The trend of shipping waste to the developing world, according to this expose in National Geographic, is likely to continue.In the U.S., it’s estimated that 70 percent of computers and monitors and over 80 percent of TVs eventually end up in landfills, despite a growing number of state laws prohibiting the dumping of e-waste.  In addition, about 180 million TVs, PCs and other components sit in storage, which has its own environmental downfall.

Because e-waste has not been a legislative priority in the U.S., an increasingly greater part of it is being sent to domestic recyclers who then ship it overseas to such places as China, Thailand, Pakistan and a rising number of West African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.  Once there, the e-waste, according to the article, has a devastating impact on the environment and the people who live near the dumping grounds.

The U.S. and the EU have put policies in place to try to curtail the problem, but under current policies, it’s still more profitable to ship it abroad than try to process it safely at home.  The irony is that even shipping it abroad is not safe for the exporter.  “The U.S. right now is shipping large quantities of leaded materials to China, and China is the world’s major manufacturing center,” said Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a chemist at Ashland University in Ohio.  “It’s not all that surprising that things are coming full circle and now we’re getting contaminated products back.”

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