Seattle and San Jose, Calif. -- A report jointly released by the Basel Action Network (BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) has revealed that huge quantities of hazardous electronic wastes are being exported to China, India and Pakistan where they are processed in operations that are harmful to human health and the environment.
In China's Quangdong Province of Giuyu, about 100,000 migrant workers are employed to break apart and process obsolete computers imported primarly from North America. Workers were seen smashing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), and pulling wires from computers and burning them at night, emitting carcinogenic smoke into the atmosphere. Water in the area is so contaminated that drinking water must be trucked in from a town 18 miles away, the report, called "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia," says.
The Basel Convention, a 1989 United Nations (UN) environmental treaty, called for a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes from industrialized nations to developing ones. But the report says the United States is the only developed country that has failed to ratify it.
BAN and STVC are calling on the United States to follow Europe and Japan's example to implement the global ban and mandate that the electronics industry institute takeback recycling programs.
Some U.S. states already are implementing programs or have banned such toxic material from their landfills and incinerators, including Massachusetts and California. And some electronics makers and large retailers have launched recycling programs and are taking steps to ensure that they do not transfer parts to someone who may wind up dumping them overseas, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson.
Additionally, two California senators have proposed electronic waste legislation. One bill, introduced by Sen. Byron Sher (D), would establish a state program to recycle CRT devices such as computer monitors and television sets. Under the bill, all CRT retailers would have to impose a fee on consumers that would help fund the recycling program.
The other bill, introduced by Sen. Gloria Romero (D), would set up a program to recover, re-use and recycle what it defines as hazardous electronic scrap -- computers, video monitors,o notebook personal computers (PCs), etc. Under this bill, manufacturers would have to label these devices as hazardous and would set up a system to either take back obsolete devices or pay a fee to the state.
Some environmentalists argue, however, that these efforts are not enough. The SVTC has suggested that producer responsibility rules be enacted and that a solid electronic waste recycling program be implemented throughout the country.