Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

E-waste — old computers, printers, and other gadgetry —  contains lead and cadmium in circuit boards, lead oxide and  cadmium in monitors, mercury in switches and flat-screen  monitors, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants on circuit boards, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) cable insulation.
An estimated 50% to 80% of the waste is exported to places like India, China, and Vietnam, where workers earn as little as 75 cents a day to crack computer parts and salvage metals under toxic conditions.
Such “recycling” often involves open burning of plastic and river-dumping of acids and plastics. Workers are exposed to lead, mercury, and other heavy metals. Ecosystems are being killed, food and drinking water contaminated. Burning PVC and brominated flame retardants creates dioxins and furans, responsible for cancers and endocrine disruption. When plastic parts are burned in China, the dioxins that are created arrive six days later in California on wind currents.
Currently, taxpayers and ratepayers pay the disposal tab. Groups such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) want manufacturers and distributors to shoulder these costs, designing a new generation of products — clean, safe, durable, reusable, repairable, upgradable, and easy to disassemble and recycle.
Two bills recently passed by the state Senate Environmental Quality Committee — SB 1619 and SB 1523 — would establish and finance recycling programs for e-waste, a good start.
But SVTC’s Electronics Take It Back! Campaign has set its sights on Extended Producer Responsibility, urging manufacturers to:
• design products to be easily repaired or upgraded, not “disposable”
• take responsibility for collection, disassembly, reuse,  and recycling
• reduce use of hazardous materials in manufacturing
• incorporate recycled content and remanufactured components into new products
• end unsafe labor practices
SVTC: (408) 287-6707. Sample letters, campaign info: www.svtc.org/act_now/index.html.

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