Electronic Waste Problem Can't Be Buried
April 23, 2004 -- Californians will pay advance recycling fees of $6 to $10 when purchasing televisions, computers, and other electronic devices, beginning July 1, 2004. By 2007, electronics manufacturers must limit the types of toxic materials, including lead, that they can use in their products.
Last year in Wisconsin, Rep. Mark Miller unsuccessfully tried another approach--making manufacturers, rather than consumers, responsible for the costs of recycling electronic products. He is expected to reintroduce a bill this year that would require electronics manufacturers to finance the collection, recycling, and disposal of televisions, computer monitors, video display devices, computers, printers, and mobile telephones. If a manufacturer fails to adopt a recycling program, its products could not be sold in Wisconsin (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 16, 2004).
More than 4.3 million tons of appliances and consumer electronic devices were discarded in 1999, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By 2005, almost 250 million computers will become obsolete, and 130 million cell phones will be discarded (The Secret Life of Cell Phones, INFORM; EPA, Resource Conservation Challenge). In California alone, about 10,000 computers and television sets per day become obsolete, according to the National Safety Council.
Older televisions contain an average of four pounds of lead, as well as arsenic, antimony, beryllium, and cadmium. Cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices also include these toxic compounds. This "e-waste" can create hazards if it is handled improperly or chemicals leach into our soil and water systems. Several states have laws against burying electronic equipment in standard landfills, and require special recycling procedures. Nevertheless, in 2001, only 11 percent of discarded personal computers were recycled.
Many communities and businesses have programs to collect, reuse, or recycle electronics. These may be ongoing, or held at specific times throughout the year. The EPA also keeps a useful list of electronics recycling programs and other resources. The EPA and many states may need to consider further rules and laws to encourage the electronics recycling effort and protect the public.