Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where does eWaste go?

Where does e-waste end up?

Truck overloaded with hazardous computer waste on the way to scrapping yards. Enlarge Image
Many old electronic goods gather dust in storage waiting to be reused, recycled or thrown away. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three quarters of the computers sold in the US are stockpiled in garages and closets. When thrown away, they end up in landfills or incinerators or, more recently, are exported to Asia.

Landfill: According to the US EPA, more than 4.6 million tonnes of e-waste ended up in US landfills in 2000. Toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, impacting nearby communities and the environment. In many European countries, regulations have been introduced to prevent electronic waste being dumped in landfills due to its hazardous content.

However, the practice still continues in many countries. In Hong Kong for example, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of discarded computers go to landfill. Incineration: This releases heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the air and ashes. Mercury released into the atmosphere can bioaccumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish - the major route of exposure for the general public. If the products contain PVC plastic, highly toxic dioxins and furans are also released. Brominated flame retardants generate brominated dioxins and furans when e-waste is burned.

Reuse: A good way to increase a product's lifespan. Many old products are exported to developing countries. Although the benefits of reusing electronics in this way are clear, the practice is causing serious problems because the old products are dumped after a short period of use in areas that are unlikely to have hazardous waste facilities.Recycle: Although recycling can be a good way to reuse the raw materials in a product, the hazardous chemicals in e-waste mean that electronics can harm workers in the recycling yards, as well as their neighbouring communities and environment.In developed countries, electronics recycling takes place in purpose-built recycling plants under controlled conditions.

In many EU states for example, plastics from e-waste are not recycled to avoid brominated furans and dioxins being released into the atmosphere. In developing countries however, there are no such controls. Recycling is done by hand in scrap yards, often by children.Export: E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international law. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47 percent of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. In the UK alone, at least 23,000 metric tonnes of undeclared or 'grey' market electronic waste was illegally shipped in 2003 to the Far East, India, Africa and China. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way.

This practice is legal because the US has not ratified the Basel Convention. Mainland China tried to prevent this trade by banning the import of e-waste in 2000. However, we have discovered that the laws are not working; e-waste is still arriving in Guiya of Guangdong Province, the main centre of e-waste scrapping in China. We have also found a growing e-waste trade problem in India. 25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi alone, where 10-20000 tonnes of e-waste is handled each year, 25 percent of this being computers.

Other e-waste scrap yards have been found in Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.© UNEP How did the trade evolve?In the 1990s, governments in the EU, Japan and some US states set up e-waste 'recycling' systems. But many countries did not have the capacity to deal with the sheer quantity of e-waste they generated or with its hazardous nature. Therefore, they began exporting the problem to developing countries where laws to protect workers and the environment are inadequate or not enforced.

It is also cheaper to 'recycle' waste in developing countries; the cost of glass-to-glass recycling of computer monitors in the US is ten times more than in China.

Demand in Asia for electronic waste began to grow when scrap yards found they could extract valuable substances such as copper, iron, silicon, nickel and gold, during the recycling process. A mobile phone, for example, is 19 percent copper and eight percent iron.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Christmas in Ireland

XXL CHRISTMAS IN IRELANDEuropean big-wave surfers tackle serious Aileens for the holidays.
For more info go to www.seafevermovie.com

Less Taxing


ANOTHER ELECTRONIC (e-waste) recycling bill has landed on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., have introduced the Electronic Waste Recycling and Promotion and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (S-510). The multi-pronged legislation, introduced in March, would provide tax credits to businesses and consumers. The bill is designed to reward the recycling of computers and display screens, such as monitors and televisions, and could lead to a ban on the disposal of certain electronic devices in municipal landfills.

Under the bill, businesses that collect e-waste from consumers and recycle at least 5,000 display screens and/or computers per year would be eligible for a $8 per unit tax credit. Consumers that give at least one display screen or computer per year to a qualified recycler would receive a $15 tax credit.

If passed, the bill also would impose a ban on the disposal of computers and electronics containing a display screen larger than 4 inches in landfills and incinerators. The ban, which would begin three years after the bill is signed into law, only would take effect if the administrator of the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes that a majority of households have access to e-waste recycling.

Furthermore, the legislation would order the EPA administrator to study the feasibility of creating a nationwide e-waste recycling program that would preempt any state's program. The bill would mandate that the federal government recycle each display screen and computer unit that it purchases.

In introducing the measure, Wyden and Talent cited concerns about the environmental effects of landfilling computers and televisions. Approximately 2 million tons of e-waste make their way into landfills each year, according to the EPA. Environmental groups worry that toxic substances in e-waste could harm human health and the environment. However, there is “no evidence whatsoever that e-waste causes an environmental or a health problem in a Subtitle D landfill,” says Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

NSWMA does not support bans on landfilling e-waste, according to Miller, but he says that the use of tax credits to stimulate e-recycling is “an interesting approach.” He says that NSWMA often does not take an official position on a bill until hearings are held.
John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., says his organization will support the bill only if it is altered to provide financial incentives for local governments that collect obsolete electronics. For instance, the bill could be amended so that local governments could receive the tax credits and then sell them to a taxpayer, he says.

In January, U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., introduced the National Computer Recycling Act (HR-425), which would impose an upfront fee on the sale of computers and other electronic devices to fund an electronics recycling grant program.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Laws

THE NEW YEAR HAS BROUGHT a new round of e-waste legislation, and Washington might be the next state to adopt a bill addressing the handling of used electronic products. While several bills have been introduced, Senate Bill 6428 and its companion legislation House Bill 2662 have garnered the most sponsors. The bills are similar to the e-waste law that recently took effect in Maine, in that they would hold manufacturers responsible for financing the collecting, transferring and recycling of e-waste.

Under the bills, beginning in January 2009, manufacturers would have the option to either enroll in a state e-recycling system set up and controlled by the yet-to-be-established Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority or participate in an independent plan created by a manufacturer or group of manufacturers, subject to approval by the state Department of Ecology (DOE). If the authority decides on a per unit recycling fee to fund the state system, charges would be limited to $10 per device, a cost that potentially could be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher product pricing.

The Senate Bill Report cites supporters' arguments that the California law requiring customers to pay $6 to $10 per electronic product to reimburse recyclers and collectors has “angered consumers, unfairly prompting a backlash against retailers.” Meanwhile, opponents have responded that manufacturers “are not equipped to design electronic waste collection and recycling systems. Some manufacturers will be competitively disadvantaged,” the report says.
Among others, officials from RadioShack, Hewlett Packard, the Washington Retail Association and Amazon have testified in favor of the bill. Representatives from Panasonic, Sony Electronics and Sharp Electronics have offered opposing testimony.

The bills were prompted by a DOE report released in December 2005 that argues for an e-waste recycling system financed by manufacturers. The DOE estimated that between 2003 and 2010, more than 4.5 million computer processing units, 3.5 million cathode ray tube monitors and 1.5 million flat panel monitors in the state will become obsolete.
As states continue to propose and adopt e-waste legislation, some stakeholders remain focused on national standards. In January, for instance, the Davisville, W.V.-based National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) and the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association formed the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse (NERIC) with the stated purpose of helping develop a “national infrastructure for electronics recycling.”
“This initiative encompasses many of the important principles embraced by the NCER since its formation last year, which are active participation of the electronics industry, research and education on the benefits of multi-state harmonization of recycling systems, and cooperative action among public and private sector stakeholder groups,” said NCER executive director Jason Linnell in a press release.

NERIC's first projects will be to provide relevant information, such as projected collection rates and collection infrastructure models, to stakeholders and to research the viability of a private sector, third-party organization administering any national system, as opposed to a new government bureaucracy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sorting out eWaste

For the uninitiated, the slew of issues, as well as state and international regulations governing electronics recycling can be as complicated as computer engineering itself. To help get stakeholders and policymakers on the same page, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Technology Administration has released an expansive report on e-waste that, among other things, reiterates the need for a national solution without advocating one financing system over another.

“What this does is aggregate all of these points of view on what is obviously a complex, complicated subject,” says Kristina Taylor, manager of Environmental and State Policy Communications for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based in Arlington, Va. The nearly 300-page report, “Recycling Technology Products: An Overview of E-waste Policy Issues,” covers a gamut of issues and begins by offering commentary from manufacturers, retailers, recyclers and consumers on the criteria for creating a national recycling system. “I think in some cases, we might find out that we as stakeholders actually agree on more than we think we do,” Taylor adds. The points most frequently agreed upon by participants in a Technology Administration public roundtable include the need for consumer education, design improvements, flexibility in collection methods and auditing of dismantlers and recyclers.
The report also examines various recycling system models and outlines the European Union's Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives, as well as e-waste policies of nearly a dozen countries. International action is likely to significantly affect policy at home, according to Taylor and Eric Harris, director of international and government affairs for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington. Taylor points out that California's SB20, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, references the RoHS Directive, and Taylor says that the WEEE Directive is making the products found on American retail shelves greener.

Among other organizations, both CEA and ISRI have expressed support for the report. “Generally we are encouraged by the report because it does show some time and energy invested by the Department of Commerce,” Harris says. “They are beginning to realize that this is more of a commodity-like material than waste, so it makes sense for them to weigh in from a policy perspective because this is something that could have a positive impact on the economy.”
While ISRI generally praised the report, the institute is advocating the term e-scrap rather than e-waste, which it believes mischaracterizes the material's potential value. CEA also would prefer more accurate terminology. Harris argues that the material needs to be viewed less as waste, in part, to prevent overregulation of electronics recycling.

Along those lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to streamline the electronics recovery and recycling process by excluding cathode ray tubes (CRTs) — found in television and computer monitors — from the federal hazardous waste management standards in certain cases. Now, used CRTs headed for recycling are not considered hazardous waste as long as they are unbroken and not stored for more than one year. In explaining the change, EPA pointed out that because of the lead contained in CRTs, parties sometimes were unsure of how to deal with the material, thereby preventing recycling and reuse. For additional details on the lengthy rule, visit www.epa.gov.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Haul of America

David Kutoff, CEO for Eagan, Minn.-based e-waste recycling firm Materials Processing Corporation (MPC), says he was initially surprised at the number of people eager to rid themselves of a once state-of-the-art computer or other previously coveted electronics. “It was pretty substantial,” he says.

Beginning on Nov. 15 — America Recycles Day — those people lined up to take part in the country's largest e-waste collection project, the Great Minnesota eCycling Event. For three days, the public was invited to drop off e-waste free of charge at the nation's largest shopping mall, Minneapolis' Mall of America.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 1.9 million tons of outdated electronics ended up in landfills in 2005. Only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled. “There are numerous places in Minneapolis — and Minnesota overall — that are available to drop off your electronics, and a lot them happen to be for free as well,” says Kutoff. “People just don't know anything about [these resources], which is an issue. Part of our goal [for] this event was to create overall awareness about electronics recycling and that there are places to get that stuff done.”

So, on “Green Thursday” (a nudge at “Black Friday”), the event kicked off, drawing hundreds of participants. Teams of workers helped unload, categorize and pack e-waste for shipment. Kutoff says some of the discarded devices dated back to the 1960s. After dropping off their items, participants were provided with e-waste recycling information and a few shopping discounts.
Expecting to collect only a few thousand pounds of e-waste, organizers were astonished by the massive response to the event. At one point, traffic entering the mall was backed up for at least two miles. Kutoff says crowds were so substantial on the second day that organizers were forced to turn some people away.

“I was really amazed at the amount of time and dedication of some of these people to actually wait on line to get rid of something as small as a DVD player,” Kutoff says. “It was very encouraging that people here are that conscious of the environment that they never threw the stuff out.”

Kutoff estimates that 1.2 million to 1.5 million pounds of electronics were collected at the event, filling 86 trucks. All items were sent for processing at MPC's facility, which touts its “No Landfill” policy. Kutoff says the amount of waste collected is a good indication of the need for more e-waste recycling drop off sites. “[Organizing] these events on a regular basis or [making them] just a little bit more localized for people is definitely a need. But I think what it creates is awareness,” he says.

e Waste Disposal LA/OC
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Monday, January 21, 2008

Eric Ritz, activist

Eric Ritz, youth-activism promoter, answers Grist's questions

What work do you do?

I'm the founder and executive director of Global Inheritance.
What does your organization do?
We reinvent activism for today's young generation. Our initiatives focus on the power of creativity to communicate and push for progressive social change while rejecting conflict. Global Inheritance targets various subcultures, developing campaigns that cater specifically to each individual demographic.

Bin there, recycled that.
Under the Global Inheritance banner are several different programs with goals ranging from promoting recycling to stopping nuclear-weapons proliferation. TRASHed is a two-pronged program -- part art-based and part event-based. The Art of Recycling is a large-scale art initiative bringing together major artists to turn ordinary recycling bins into inspiring works of art. And the TRASHed Recycling Store, set up at various concerts and other events, accepts recyclable bottles as currency toward cool merchandise. Tour Rider is another event-related program; it focuses on traffic congestion and air pollution, giving concertgoers who carpool access to a range of perks including gift bags and VIP privileges.
Story continues below

What are you working on at the moment?

We just finished our first concert as part of a series of events called Public Displays of Affection, which rewards people who use the subway or bus system in Los Angeles. Next on our plate is AFI Fest, a film festival held by the American Film Institute. What I'm really excited about currently is Coachella 2007. We are planning several really cool programs at this year's festival that will raise the environmental bar for all major music festivals around the world.
How do you get to work?

I roll out of bed and over to the desk.

What long and winding road led you to your current position?

I grew up with parents who had strong morals. I also lived in a progressive town (Portland, Ore.) and went to school at the University of Oregon (although I wasn't the stereotypical UO activist). I helped organize benefit concerts and worked with a lot of out-of-touch nonprofits. Then I worked on the Truth campaign. And finally, the rise of the internet and meeting Matt Brady, who is currently the Global Inheritance creative director, led me to where I am today.

Where were you born? Where do you live now?

Born in Detroit and ended up in Los Angeles.

What has been the worst moment in your professional life to date?
Having to deal with lame people who care only for themselves.

What's been the best?

Trading trash for treasure at the Recycling Store.

I've worked in several cutthroat industries that employ creative and hardworking people. I love people who are very passionate about life and don't compromise or change for others. I believe you have one shot at life, so make the most of it.

What environmental offense has infuriated you the most?

Where do I begin?

Who is your environmental hero?

There's too many to count. I think God and all the religious figures should be environmental heroes. I want to start a campaign with God saying you will be damned if you litter or drive a Hummer in NYC. Think about the positive environmental impact Buddha, Allah, Jesus, and Muhammad could have on society!

What's your environmental vice?

I fall asleep watching movies and leave the TV on.

Read any good books lately?

Papillon by Henri Charriere.

What's your favorite place to eat?

I love a Brazilian restaurant called Bossa Nova. It's open 'til 4 a.m., and has amazing food and decent prices.

Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?

I drive a hybrid but fly around in a Learjet.

What's your favorite place or ecosystem?

South America.

If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?

Instead of running the morning news with celebrity/murder updates, all the major networks would broadcast a 15-minute news piece talking about the environment and ways to integrate new ideas into your everyday life.

Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?

When I was 18, probably N.W.A. Currently, there are several I could pick. Right now, I'm listening to Air, the Virgin Suicides soundtrack.

What's your favorite TV show? Movie?

I don't watch much TV, but I get Netflix and rented Live Aid recently. I'm not sure what we were thinking in the '80s. People were so over the top. I can't believe people dressed and acted that way. I think the entire world was high.

Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
P. Diddy ... and there would be a horrible accident (think Brandon Lee/The Crow) on set, with P. Diddy unfortunately passing away after four days of unsuccessful surgery.

If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?

Avoid being backseat drivers; take the wheel and show by example what's possible.

Sorting out eWaste


For the uninitiated, the slew of issues, as well as state and international regulations governing electronics recycling can be as complicated as computer engineering itself. To help get stakeholders and policymakers on the same page, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Technology Administration has released an expansive report on e-waste that, among other things, reiterates the need for a national solution without advocating one financing system over another.

“What this does is aggregate all of these points of view on what is obviously a complex, complicated subject,” says Kristina Taylor, manager of Environmental and State Policy Communications for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), based in Arlington, Va. The nearly 300-page report, “Recycling Technology Products: An Overview of E-waste Policy Issues,” covers a gamut of issues and begins by offering commentary from manufacturers, retailers, recyclers and consumers on the criteria for creating a national recycling system. “I think in some cases, we might find out that we as stakeholders actually agree on more than we think we do,” Taylor adds. The points most frequently agreed upon by participants in a Technology Administration public roundtable include the need for consumer education, design improvements, flexibility in collection methods and auditing of dismantlers and recyclers.
The report also examines various recycling system models and outlines the European Union's Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives, as well as e-waste policies of nearly a dozen countries. International action is likely to significantly affect policy at home, according to Taylor and Eric Harris, director of international and government affairs for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington. Taylor points out that California's SB20, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, references the RoHS Directive, and Taylor says that the WEEE Directive is making the products found on American retail shelves greener.

Among other organizations, both CEA and ISRI have expressed support for the report. “Generally we are encouraged by the report because it does show some time and energy invested by the Department of Commerce,” Harris says. “They are beginning to realize that this is more of a commodity-like material than waste, so it makes sense for them to weigh in from a policy perspective because this is something that could have a positive impact on the economy.”
While ISRI generally praised the report, the institute is advocating the term e-scrap rather than e-waste, which it believes mischaracterizes the material's potential value. CEA also would prefer more accurate terminology. Harris argues that the material needs to be viewed less as waste, in part, to prevent overregulation of electronics recycling.

Along those lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to streamline the electronics recovery and recycling process by excluding cathode ray tubes (CRTs) — found in television and computer monitors — from the federal hazardous waste management standards in certain cases. Now, used CRTs headed for recycling are not considered hazardous waste as long as they are unbroken and not stored for more than one year. In explaining the change, EPA pointed out that because of the lead contained in CRTs, parties sometimes were unsure of how to deal with the material, thereby preventing recycling and reuse. For additional details on the lengthy rule, visit www.epa.gov.

The commerce report can be downloaded at www.technology.gov.

Assault and Battery

Chinese workers pay for our cadmium-battery habit

Posted by Tom Philpott at 8:01 AM on 16 Jan 2008

Read more about: China United States toxics business consumerism climate greenhouse-gas emissions environmental justice


In the last 20 years, the United States has essentially dismantled its industrial base, moving production of consumer goods south to Mexico and east to Asia.

This has not only dramatically lowered the cost of goods, fueling a consumer boom; it has also helped make our economy less energy-intensive, and lowered our exposure to industrial waste.
But net gains for the environment and worker health have been imaginary. We've merely shifted the burdens of industrial production onto other lands and other people -- most recently, China.

Don't be a Cad.

I think this is the most important political-ecological story of our time -- made even more urgent by the specter of climate change (since for the climate, greenhouse-gas emissions from Huizhou, China, are just as damaging as those from Pittsburgh, Penn.). And I don't know of any other publication covering it with more rigor than the Wall Street Journal.

It has been running great articles on how U.S. demand for cheap goods is triggering a surge in consumption of Chinese coal. And on Tuesday, it ran a great piece on how U.S. industry responded to the well-documented hazards of cadmium-battery manufacturing by simply moving production to China, creating a nightmare for workers there.

Here is the Journal:

Once widely manufactured in the West, [cadmium] batteries are now largely made in China, where the industry is sickening workers and poisoning the soil and water.
Europe has banned most cadmium batteries. Not so the U.S., where they're "still widely used in toys, power tools, cordless phones and other gadgets." The article is worth reading in its entirety.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

China's internet users

By ANICK JESDANUN,

NEW YORK - The Chinese government said Friday its Internet population has soared to 210 million people, putting it on track to surpass the U.S. online community this year to become the world's largest.

The official China Internet Network Information Center, also known as CNNIC, said the online population grew 53 percent, from 137 million reported at the same time last year. According to the government's Xinhua News Agency, China is only 5 million behind the United States online, a figure consistent with some American estimates.

China still lags the United States in many respects, however.

Xinhua placed China's online penetration rate at 16 percent — the point Americans were at in the mid-1990s. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75 percent of American adults are now online; penetration is even higher when teens are included. (China's stats cover Chinese 6 and older.)

"We're two countries at very different points along the adoption curve," said John Horrigan, Pew's associate director. "China is approximately 15 years behind."
Several other differences between the two markets mean Internet penetration has different meaning in China and the United States.

First, cybercafes serve as the main entry to the Internet for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home. One-third of Chinese Internet users surf through cybercafes, according to Xinhua, while Pew found that 93 percent of U.S. Internet users have access at home.
Also, China is notorious for censorship. Although the government promotes Internet use for education and business, it tries to block the public from seeing material it deems pornographic or critical of communist rule, including new rules promulgated this month covering online videos.
And China's government imprisons people who mail, post online, or access politically sensitive content from within China. Reporters Without Borders says 50 Chinese "cyberdissidents" are currently in prison.

Nonetheless, China's online growth is significant.
"Users do a lot to shape the Internet and not only by directly posting content but (by) their behavior," Horrigan said. "It tells other people what the demand is. As you get more Chinese, that increases demand for Internet content in Mandarin and other Chinese languages."
Horrigan also said many Chinese users are accessing the Internet through mobile devices, offering China "a distinct opportunity to shape the Internet" with usage everywhere.

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