Recycling an old PC might not be enough to keep it out of a landfill. Despite a swath of regulations, discarded televisions and computers are finding their way into scrap heaps all over the world, with potentially harmful environmental consequences, reports National Geographic’s Chris Carroll.
Some 50 million tons of unwanted and obsolete electronics are discarded every year, according to the United Nations’ Environment Program. The U.S. contributed between 1.5 and 1.9 million tons in 2005, and the total is expected to climb as people replace their analog TVs with digital versions and upgrade PCs to faster models.
Even though a growing number of state laws prohibit putting electronic waste in the trash, more than two-thirds of U.S. TVs and computers eventually end up in landfills, where they could leak lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxins into the ground. The old machines also contain potentially reusable quantities of gold, silver and other metals that could be extracted with less of an environmental impact than from mining new sources in the ground.
While some old products end up in recycling centers, that is no guarantee that the gear will be processed safely, says Mr. Carroll. Some recyclers around the world sell old electronics to brokers, who then funnel it to developing countries. In parts of Asia and Africa, enforcement of environmental regulations are weak, and people are often eager to mine discarded goods for valuable bits of metal scrap. In Accra, Ghana, Mr. Carroll uncovered old electronics bundled into shipments of used clothes from Germany, even though the European Union has put in place safeguards blocking the shipment of hazardous waste to poor countries.
The outlook for used electronics isn’t entirely bleak, however, says Mr. Carroll, who visited a state-of-the-art recycling center in Florida that can process around 150 million pounds of electronics a year. While just a handful of U.S. recycling companies can handle large volumes of electronic waste, with the addition of just a few more plants, it would be possible to safely recycle the country’s entire output of high-tech trash. – Wendy Pollack
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Good for You, Bad for Mother Earth? | $1.79 might seem like a small price to pay for a bottle of water. But it costs the Earth far more than...
A penthouse apartment in Laguna Beach was recently reduced by $200,000 and is now being offered as a short sale. The ho...
A lot of it, depends on the why. Being put on a ventilator normally means that for some reason, you are unable to support your own breath...