Showing posts with label wall street journal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wall street journal. Show all posts

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Dirty Truth About (Some) E-Waste Collections

A new report just published by the Basel Action Network and the Electronics Takeback Coalition is highlighting the many issues and pitfalls around how the United States deals with electronic waste.

The report concerns an Oklahoma-based e-waste recycler, a series of free public e-waste collection drives in western Pennsylvania, and the sticky morass that is U.S. e-waste export rules.

A little background: BAN and Electronics Takeback have long been advocating for responsible e-waste policies in the U.S. Because this country is the only developed nation that hasn't yet ratified the Basel Convention on toxic wastes, the U.S. is able to import and export all types of hazardous materials, with the sole exception being for cathode-ray tube televisions and monitors, provided that proper notice is given to the EPA.
Click for full-sized.

Electronic waste is a huge problem, containing both a large number of highly toxic materials and hard-to-recycle compounds; but there are valuable materials in electronics that can be harvested and potentially reused or sold on the commodities market. An expose by the television news program 60 Minutes last year explored how toxic e-waste harvesting can be. Given the choice between landfilling millions of pounds of electronics containing lead, mercury and other toxins, and collecting it for supposedly eco-friendly recycling, it's not a difficult decision to make.

But the report from BAN looks at how e-waste collection projects, no matter how green they're promised to be, can end up being part of the problem.

As part of their preparation for Earth Day, BAN looked around the country for free e-waste collection drives. Free collection drives fall into a simple rule of thumb, according to Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator for the Electronics Takeback Coalition: follow the money.

"If you have someone who is going to take all your stuff, including TVs, for free, then stop right there: they're going to be exporting," Kyle explained.

What BAN found was less common, and raised more red flags, than just a free drive: an Oklahoma-based e-waste company called Earth ECycle was holding a collection drive in western Pennsylvania as a benefit for the Humane Society in the region.

"If you've got a recycler who's taking this for free, and paying a charity for it, then there's only one way to generate revenue from taking stuff from people's basement and garages," Sarah Westervelt, BAN's e-Stewardship Director, told me, "that's to export it."

Lee Nesler, the executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, told me that the events in the region netted over a million pounds of discarded electronics, and will earn the group about $150,000 in donations from Earth ECycle.

BAN staked out the collection drive, and followed the trucks that left the collections warehouses in Pittsburgh and Monroeville, Pa. From those warehouses, following some "offloading and reloading" of the trucks, per the BAN report, the containers went overseas. Most were shipped to Hong Kong with destinations beyond to Vietnam or elsewhere, and a final container was shipped to South Africa.
Click for full-sized.

The problem, in addition to concerns about exports of e-waste in violation of U.S. and international law, is that Earth ECycle pledges to keep all e-waste in the U.S. for processing. When BAN contacted Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department warning about incoming shipments of potentially illegal waste, the authorities there refused the containers and shipped them back to the U.S.

In an email interview, Earth ECycle's CEO, Jeffrey Nixon, explained that his company recalled the shipments, and what comes next for the containers. "When all of the containers come back, we will verify contents and seal to insure we are the ones responsible, take them back to a warehouse in NJ, sort, separate and resell the items to a well qualified buyer," Nixon wrote.

There are more wrinkles in this story than can reasonably be explained in a blog, but it's worth noting that neither of the warehouses that Earth ECycle sent the collected materials to contain recycling or dismantling equipment, that the materials did obviously end up being shipped overseas, contrary to the company's claims, and that Earth ECycle has an account on, an import-export website, where the company offers for sale container-loads of electronic scrap.

Nixon disputes the claims of the BAN report, and says that he will take responsibility to correct mistakes like the shipping of these electronics overseas. But regardless of the specifics of this case, it highlights a serious problem with U.S. e-waste policy.

According to Barbara Kyle, this kind of export is pretty standard in the industry. "When it comes to these public collection events where people can take their stuff in for free, and which are not paid for by state programs, this is a pretty common thing," she said. "Everyone thinks they're doing the right thing [by bringing their electronics in for recycling], but people have no idea that these are going on a container and going overseas."

And once these electronics have been collected, it's difficult to keep them from being imported, even among the 140 countries that are signatories to the Basel Convention. The report says that Hong Kong authorities can only inspect a few containers per day for contraband, and that about 50 containers per day of e-waste get past the inspections, destined for mainland China.

"There's no global police force enforcing the Basel Convention," Sarah Westervelt explained. "...These containers make it through their customs process, usually in violation of their laws, and they get opened up and 'recycled' using very toxic technologies. The end result is you've got these immortal heavy metals dispersed into their environment, impacting human health and the environment for the long term."

Groups like BAN and the Electronics Takeback Coalition have been working on both the policy and the action front. While federal e-waste legislation was introduced last week by Rep. Gene Green, Kyle and Westervelt both said that the proposed rule has been corrupted by loopholes that would allow the exporting of this type of waste.

But BAN has also been working on a market solution to the e-waste disposal problem in the U.S. Late last year, they launched E-Stewards, a certification that recognizes the most responsible e-waste handling practices around. After six years of developing the standard and the list of companies that meet E-Stewards criteria, BAN has nearly completed the process to make E-Stewards an independently audited certification. A pilot verification of the label will begin at the end of 2009, and the certification is expected to launch in February 2010.

In the meantime, individuals, businesses and non-profits like the Humane Society bear the bulk of the burden in sorting through the complexities of responsible e-waste disposal.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Pentagon looks at green options

THE Pentagon may seem an unlikely promoter of alternative energy, but the biggest consumer of oil in the United States is looking at ways to become just that by partnering with private firms.

"When you don't use as much fuel, not only does it not cost you as much, but it also saves lives and injuries of those people who would have to deliver fuel through hostile territory," Assistant Army Secretary for Installations and the Environment Keith Eastin said.

Despite reducing its overall energy consumption by five per cent between 2005 and 2007, the US military spent $US13 billion ($18.46 billion) on energy in 2007 and requested an additional $US5 billion ($7.1 billion) due to a spike in oil prices.

The stakes are high, with the army estimating that reducing fuel consumption by just one per cent translates to about 6400 fewer soldiers in fuel convoys, a favourite target of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of this has added up to renewed urgency for the Pentagon to reduce its energy consumption. It is already federally mandated to obtain 25 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Hundreds of small companies are expected to benefit from the military's green energy push, developing everything from alternative fuels to electric vehicles and efficient power generators.

One low tech initiative that has yielded surprisingly big results is spraying tents with a layer of hard foam. The insulation helps maintain steady temperatures inside the tents, reducing fuel consumption for heating or cooling by 50 per cent and saving an estimated 100,000 gallons of fuel or $US2 million ($2.84 million) per day.

"Each gallon you save is a ton of money that can be used elsewhere, either at the installation or fighting the war," Mr Eastin said. He estimated that a three-dollar gallon of fuel can end up costing up to $US28 ($40) on the battlefield after factoring in transportation and security costs.

With a staggering $US7.7 billion ($10.93 billion) spent last year on aircraft fuel alone, the US Air Force is the military's biggest energy consumer.

It is purchasing renewable energy, reducing aircraft loads and certifying its entire fleet to fly on a 50/50 synthetic fuel blend by 2011.

"Our efforts to drive a domestic source of synthetic fuels is a piece of the puzzle to be more secure as a nation and as the air force," said Kevin Billings, acting air force secretary for installations, environment and logistics.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jaguar photographed in central Mexico, first since 1900

February 11, 2009—The largest cat in the Americas is alive and well in the heart of Mexico, scientists say.

Three photographs of a male jaguar and exactly 132 poop samples (including the one above, released February 10) are the first known evidence of the predator since the early 1900s.

The big cat was snapped by a camera trap in the Sierra Nanchititla Natural Reserve.

Jaguars have disappeared from much of Mexico as humans have chopped up their habitat and sometimes killed the animals for the illegal wildlife trade.

Concerned that the big cat was locally extinct, an expedition team set out into the 260 square mile (674 square kilometer) reserve between 2002 and 2004.

The team talked to villagers within the study area, but no one had reported seeing the elusive animal.

That may be because the cats, which were photographed at 6,053 feet (1,845 meters), are forced by their diminishing habitat to travel across higher ground, said study leader Octavio Monroy-Vilchis of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico.

—Christine Dell'Amore

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crash in trash creates mountains of unwanted recyclables

American towns are being forced to abandon recycling their household waste after the global economic downturn has crashed the once profitable market for "trash".

By Philip Sherwell in New York

Financial crisis is rubbish for trash

Mountains of used plastics, paper, metals and cardboard are piling up in the warehouses and yards of recycling companies across the US. Some contractors are negotiating to rent old military hangars and abandoned railway depots because they have run out of storage space for the glut of suddenly unwanted rubbish.

The collapse in the recycling market is a direct by-product of the financial crisis, as demand has slumped for material to be converted into everything from boxes for electronics to car parts and house fittings.

Householders have long been able to feel virtuous about their impact on the environment by sorting out their rubbish each week. But now the great trash market crash has even raised the environmentally alarming spectre that some waste intended for recycling may end up in landfills.

"The crash is all the more dramatic because as recently as mid-October the prices for recyclables stood at record highs," said Bruce Parker, president of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

Newsprint is now fetching less than $60 (£40) a ton, down from $160; corrugated boxing has slumped from $50 a ton to $10; while tin fetches $5 a pound compared to about $25.

Other materials are performing even worse, Mr Parker said. His members are now having to pay for the removal of low-grade mixed paper that two months ago was bringing in $120 a ton. "And plastics, you cannot even give them away," he added with a sigh.

The previous surge in prices had largely been driven by soaring demand from China and India. The emerging economic powerhouses were swallowing up rubbish as soon Americans were discarding it - often to turn into goods and packing that were then sold back to the US.

But the demand from Asia has now collapsed as the economic crisis has spread around the globe. "We truly live in a global economy where what happens at one end of the earth directly affects business at the other end," said Mr Parker.

The impact is devastating commercially - and not just for recycling businesses. Already confronting crippling budget shortfalls, local and state authorities have now seen a lucrative source of income dry up as recycling centres are no longer paying for their rubbish.

Some towns have even suspended their recycling operations, although in much of the country those programmes are required by law.

Residents in West Virginia's Kanawha county, which includes the state capital Charleston, have been told to stockpile plastics and metals, the materials worst hit by the crash, as they will no longer be collected. Small towns with tight budgets are particularly badly affected – Frackville in Pennsylvania has recently suspended its recycling programme.

The collapse has even hit the nation's most prestigious academic institutions. Harvard University used to receive $10 a ton for mixed recyclables from a nearby centre, but last month was told that it would have to start paying $20 a ton to send students' discarded newspapers and empty bottles there.

"I have been in the recycling business for 30 years and never seen a time as bad as this," said Johnny Gold, senior vice-president of the Newark Group, one of America's biggest recycling companies.

"It's a combination of the economic collapse and Chinese over-capacity.

"Our industry is a textbook case of supply and demand. We sell our product to paper mills that make boxes to supply companies making goods and if those goods are not selling, then they don't need the boxes and they don't buy our product."

Mr Parker believes that the market may not bounce back until late 2010 - and by then the mountains of unwanted rubbish would have turned into major mountain ranges. The NSWMA argues that to handle the crisis, the US will have to step up investment in its own recycling mills to fill the gap left by Asia and that contractors may have to impose recycling surcharges.

"It may cost communities more in the meantime but from an environmental point of views, the savings in terms of reducing greenhouse emissions and other benefits are still much greater," he said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Former EPA investigator blows whistle on Alaska oil spill

SEATTLE - A former top EPA investigator who helped lead an investigation into a giant oil spill in Alaska is blowing the whistle to KING 5 News.

The investigator says it should have been a felony criminal case. So was oil giant BP let off the hook? KING 5's environmental specialist Gary Chittim talked with the investigator in an exclusive report.

In March 2006, a ruptured pipeline stained the Alaskan tundra with 200,000 gallons of North Slope crude oil. It was second only to the Exxon Valdez in spill size and damage in Alaska.

The EPA's lead criminal investigator in Seattle got an immediate phone call.

"I knew I had an investigation now to perform and I dispatched one of our special agents up to the North Slope," said Scott West, EPA Special Agent in Charge, retired.

A year before, West says he met with BP engineers and employees who said they had continually warned their superiors a long section of the pipe was deteriorating and at risk of rupturing.

"And he said OK, that leak's happened at a caribou crossing on the transit line, just like we predicted and there's oil all over the place," said West.

As West prepared for a criminal investigation into BP officials, Congress was already demanding answers in hearings and at first not getting them.

"Based upon the advice from council, I respectfully will not answer questions," Richard Woollam, former head for BP Pipeline Corrosion, had told Congress.

The Congressional panel, including Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., accused the company of failing to properly maintain the lines.

"This was a very willful, deliberate, clear, premeditated if you will, decision not to do this known maintenance," said Inslee.

While Congress kept demanding answers, West was pushing forward his criminal case.

By now, West says his case was picking up speed and strength. The FBI, the Justice Department and some of Alaska's agencies were taking part and investing time, money and energy into the investigation.

"This was one of the largest devotions of manpower to an environmental case," he said.

West says the group was looking at possible felony crimes at high level BP officials in the U.S. and Great Britain.

BP continued to clean up and replace lines and apologize for the spill, but insisted it was an unforeseeable accident.

Then suddenly, West and his investigators were called to Anchorage for an unforeseeable announcement from the Justice Department.

"I was dismissed. My investigation was shut down," said West. "I have never seen the Department of Justice shutdown an investigation this strong, moving ahead with so much momentum."

Case closed? Maybe not.

"You won't be surprised if there is Congressional interest in this to find where this thread leads," said West.

It has led West in a new direction. He's decided to close his 19 year career at EPA by blowing the whistle on his most frustrating case.

BP ended up accepting a misdemeanor charge and paying a $20 million fine.

The following statement is from BP:

We have no record that any concerns about corrosion leading to an oil transit line breach in the foreseeable future ever were communicated to BP -- by BP Alaska workers, by Mr. West, or anyone else.

If the conversations that Mr. West described occurred, then we're disappointed Mr. West or someone in EPA didn't come to us to share this specific concern so that we could have addressed it and possibly prevented this spill.

Our interactions with the Justice Department and EPA were appropriate in every way. We offered and EPA and DOJ received BP's full cooperation in their Alaska investigation.

We were not a party to discussions among EPA, the FBI and the Justice Department and cannot comment on them.
We were provided a detailed summary of comments made by Mr. West to another reporter. We read with interest that after a 17-month investigation, West and other investigators could not "realistically charge" BP with a felony and that the answer was "no" when investigators were asked if they could charge individuals.

BP admitted that its processes and systems for monitoring Prudhoe Bay oil transit lines were inadequate, admitted that negligence on the company's part resulted in the March 2006 spill and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal count.

We are not aware any evidence that anyone at BP violated the law.

The following statement is from the Justice Department:

In October of 2007, BP Exploration Alaska, Inc., agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act to resolve criminal liability relating to pipeline leaks of crude oil. As a result of the guilty plea, BP Alaska agreed to pay $20 million which included the criminal fine, community service payments and criminal restitution.

The allegations by Mr. West that the Department improperly handled the case are not based in fact and are simply not true. Mr. West implies that something sinister took place between June 12 and August 28, 2007. As with any investigation, there comes a point in time when further investigation is no longer warranted if it does not have a realistic chance of generating useful evidence. In this case, the judgment by career prosecutors was that the case had been sufficiently and fully investigated to reach appropriate charging decisions. No further investigation was likely to find evidence that would shed any new light on the essential facts of the case. The investigators from the EPA and FBI agreed with the prosecution’s approach.

This case was an example of an excellent partnership between prosecutors from Washington D.C. and those from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The following statement is from the EPA:

"EPA takes criminal violations of the law very seriously. EPA vigorously investigates and recommends charges for both individuals and corporations whenever appropriate. Over the past two years, 70% of the criminals charged in environmental crime cases were individuals, not corporations.

In the case of BP Alaska, after a robust 18-month criminal investigation, EPA, FBI, and DOT, along with DOJ prosecutors, jointly concluded the corporation was liable for a negligent discharge of oil.

EPA, along with DOJ, also concluded that further investigative efforts were unlikely to be fruitful. At the same time, nothing in the plea agreement for this investigation precludes prosecution of individuals, should events or evidence indicate misconduct.

This case was an example of strong teamwork among the agencies and resulted in the appropriate outcome.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Laws about eWaste

I am not sure I have ever heard the word “e-waste” before. It conjurs up visions in my mind of what Rosie, the robot maid on the Jetson’s might expel, or perhaps, all of the outtakes from my various photo shoots. You know, the accidental shots of the floor, that might qualify as “art” in some circles.

We all knew that when we went digital, we were improving the environment. No chemicals, no film made of gelatin (which is made from cows). But it turns out we still have an environmental challenge. When your computer becomes out of date every 3 years, what to do with the old ones?

A law went into effect today in Texas that requires computer manufacturers to accept and recycle old computers that are of their own brand. “The law requires manufacturers offering to sell new computer equipment in or into Texas to provide a program for collecting and recycling of consumers’ used computer equipment.”

A quick look to Apple shows that they will accept any brand for recycling IF you buy a new Mac. But their website doesn’t mention anything about accepting old Apples.

According to the Texas law, they will have to adapt their policy and begin accepting old Macs (in Texas).

More specifically,

Manufacturers are only required to collect and recycle computer equipment purchased by individuals primarily for personal or home-business use.
Manufacturers are only required to collect and recycle their own brands of computer equipment, not brands owned by other manufacturers.
Aaah, so for the lawyer in all of us, what “is” a computer?

According to the laws, it includes:

a monitor,
a desktop computer or laptop, and
an accompanying keyboard and mouse made by the same manufacturer.
Noticeably absent- cameras and all the computer chips in them.

Also, don’t forget to wipe your computer clean- I mean really clean. A famous basketball player that I photographed told me a story about how he traded in his old computer, and someone called him with the news that all of his personal data was still on the used computer that they bought. Nice that they were honest. I don’t expect all people will be so lucky.

Happy Recycling.

Monday, August 4, 2008

245 Million Chances to Recycle

245 million tons. That’s the amount of garbage Americans consign to landfills every year.

For America Recycles Day, November 15, please take a moment to think of ways to decrease your own landfill contributions.

The good news is recycling programs are working, with almost half of all paper products and aluminum cans reclaimed every year. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of technology products are reused. As an example, a meager two percent of the 130 million used cell phones replaced every year are recycled.

The cause, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, is that three-quarters of Americans are not aware of recycling options. In addition, the shrinking size and price of new wireless cell phones has created a misperception that they are a “disposable” technology.

As result, the vast majority of used cell phones are temporarily stashed in junk drawers and storage closets before ultimately being discarded – contributing a staggering 13,750 tons of unused cell phones to landfills every year.

Many of these cellular phones are still functional, and could be reused by other mobile phone subscribers. Those that aren’t functional contain valuable materials that can be reclaimed, reducing the need for new sources of gold, platinum, nickel and plastics.

To raise awareness for cell phone recycling, ReCellular, Sprint and Keep America Beautiful is holding a nationwide recycling campaign to “Wipe Out Wireless Waste.” Our goal is to collect and recycle 100,000 pounds of wireless cell phones, batteries and accessories.

Please help support our mission by donating your cell phones to a Keep America Beautiful affiliate in your community, or by downloading a prepaid mailing label at

About half of the cell phones collected from this program will be refurbished and reused – the ultimate form of recycling. The remaining equipment will be smelted down at a facility regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency to reclaim valuable materials, including precious metals from circuit boards, heavy metals from batteries and plastic from cases and accessories.

Proceeds from the collections will benefit Keep America Beautiful affiliate programs across the US, including litter clean-ups on public lands and waterways, additional recycling events, tree and flower plantings, educational workshops, vacant lot restorations and a diversity of hands-on stewardship projects.

We believe that each of us holds an obligation to preserve and protect our environment. Through our everyday choices and actions, we collectively have a huge impact on our world. It’s really a simple concept, but one with far reaching effects.

So, please, answer the call to action on America Recycles Day and recycle your newspaper, aluminum cans, plastic containers … and your used cell phones.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Martyn Williams, IDG News Service
Mon Jun 16, 12:30 AM ET

Environmental group Greenpeace said it identified three containers of electronic waste as they were about to be unloaded in Hong Kong Port over the weekend.

The group said the three containers were on the "Yang Ming Success" that had sailed to Hong Kong from the U.S. port of Oakland and were destined for the Sanshui district in neighboring Guangdong province. That meant the shipment was illegal under Chinese law, Greenpeace said.

In a video distributed by the group to news organizations, Greenpeace supporters that had boarded the ship can be seen unfurling a banner along the side of containers that read in English and Chinese, "Toxic waste not welcomed here."

In response Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department has ordered the containers be held on the pier until the owner opens them for inspection, said Lo Sze Ping, a campaign director for Greenpeace. The Hong Kong authorities could not be immediately reached for comment.

Greenpeace said that Hong Kong is a major transit point for electronic waste because of several loopholes in the territory's environmental protection regulations. Among them, importers can easily claim the waste is for recycling or reuse to escape the controls, the group said. It also charged the Environmental Protection Department, which issues the import and export permits, with concentrating on waste like old batteries and paying little attention to printed-circuit boards.

The issue of e-waste is one that the Amsterdam-based the toxins found inside, including lead, beryllium, PVC, phthalates and brominated fire retardants can poison the environment and damage human health.

Of particular concern in the region is the Chinese city of Guiyu, which is also in Guangdong province. The city is one of the biggest electronic waste recycling centers on earth but the informal industry is centered around primitive, small-scale factories where products are dismantled by hand. The work is often done with little regard for health of the workers or the environment.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New York City

Mar 13 - New York City Council Replaces E-waste Bill with Two New Bills

The New York City Council yesterday recalled the e-waste legislation they passed last month and has replaced it with two new bills. The change comes after Mayor Bloomberg threatened to veto the first bill. The two bills split up the first bill with one requiring electronics manufacturers to collect and recycling their used and unwanted products and the other focusing on mandatory collection goals to be met. The latter was what the Mayor was mostly opposed to that led to the splitting of the original bill. So instead of having the entire bill be vetoed, the City Council split up the bill and still hopes to be the first city in the country with an e-waste recycling bill.

Read a New York Times article.

What You Can Do

Learn more about California's e-waste legislation.
Find a place to recycling your unwanted electronics.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dead Zones

In case you didn’t know, the “dead zone” isn’t just a novel by Steven King or an old TV show, it’s an area about the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico that during the summer months is incapable of supporting sea life. The dead zone is created when fertilizer run off promote algae growth, which in turn throws off the oceans equilibrium by using all the available oxygen, killing everything else. So, good for algae perhaps, but bad for the sea life in general.

Carectomy recently reported that ethanol production for passenger vehicles could be responsible for a growth in this dead zone. In their words:

Corn is the biggest culprit in creating these environments, and now that the U.S. is looking to biofuels as a solution to its energy needs, the problem’s only getting worse. Bush signed legislation at the end of 2007 that will triple the amount of corn ethanol produced over the next several years.

More after the jump!

Because corn is the crop most used for ethanol in the US (other countries, such as Brazil, use sugar cane), it is clear that corn will have an adverse affect on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem as the fertilizer heavy crop’s run off travels down the Mississippi and dumps itself into the ocean.

Carectomy goes on to give a scathing overview of how ethanol is the wrong direction for the US and the world, as it solves no problems, but simply makes it seems like problems have been solved. While I would heartily agree with them on many counts, there is much more to ethanol than meets the eye. Political pressures have made most US ethanol production corn based thus far, but other technologies have a promising future.

Cellulosic ethanol, for example, can use any plant matter and turn it into ethanol. That means that food waste, grasses, and just about anything that’s a plant could be made into ethanol. With this technology extremely efficient ways of producing ethanol with environmentally friendly crops could be used, therefore lowering the impact ethanol has on the environment.

With that said, the dead zone is truly an alarming spectacle, and if the US wants to continue to hurdle towards an ethanol economy, it’s going to have to reform its ways and “kick the corn habit” as much as it needs to kick the oil habit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

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.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles