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The Heap

Counting the Real Cost of Electronics Recycling

20090602as_recycle2_500.jpg A great article in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette uses a charity e-waste collection event as a jumping off point to examine the fiction of "free" electronics recycling. The article asserts that if electronics are being collected for free (and especially if the company collecting the electronics asserts that it is making enough to give some of the proceeds to charity), that material is likely being shipped to third-world countries.

"People have to understand that if they want their electronics disposed in the right way, they have to pay for it," said [Alan Boring, owner and operator of A. Greenspan Computer Recycling Inc.], 60, who started his recycling business in 2003.

The right way of doing business, he said, must include a certain fee that is assessed to the consumer. That fee is essential because the collector has to pay a smelter in the United States, Canada, Japan or some countries in Europe to properly shred the electronics.

It's worth noting (as the article does) that this activity, while unethical, is not technically illegal. It's also notable that the United States is the only industrialized nation that has yet to sign the Basel treaty, under which developed countries agree to monitor and end the shipment and reckless disposal of hazardous materials contained in electronics.

If your firm collects e-waste, do you know where that material ultimately winds up? Are you sure?