January 01, 2009
More on e-waste recycling

My post on e-waste recycling drew an interesting comment from Zac Trahan, Houston Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment that I thought was worth sharing on the front page:

You are correct -- municipal governments throughout Texas do collect mountains of electronic waste. Each city or county must then decide on a recycling partner, and as you might guess, cities and counties must usually go with the lowest bidder. As you might also guess, the lowest bidder is in many cases a company that exports e-waste overseas, since this shameful practice is currently more lucrative than real recycling.

So far as Houston's recycling efforts go, the picture is cloudy. If a recycler is listed as an "E-Steward" then we can be sure they are not exporting. As the article mentions, there are no E-Stewards in Houston. However, if they are not E-Stewards, that doesn't mean they are exporting -- it just means we can't be sure they aren't. And we the taxpayers are paying for it whether it's really recycling or not.

This touches on the heart of the issue. Even if none of the e-waste Houston collects is exported, the companies that design and sell electronics have no concern for where they might end up. Instead, the manufacturers should be responsible for the entire life of their products. Producers should be accountable for what happens to their toxic electronic waste, not local governments and taxpayers.

Texas passed such a law to cover computer equipment in the 2007 session. Although its provisions to stop export were lacking, now all computer manufacturers selling products in Texas must offer free recycling. You can see the results so far at www.texasrecyclescomputers.org. We have also been successful in convincing several TV makers to offer recycling. Visit www.texastakeback.com for more on how to recycle your e-waste in Houston. We urge people to make use of the manufacturer recycling programs whenever possible.

Texas Campaign for the Environment will be pressuring lawmakers to strengthen this law and extend it to cover other e-waste, such as TVs. We are also working with U.S. Congress member Gene Green on federal legislation to stop export. We make progress by building broad community support and public pressure to hold our lawmakers accountable. Visit www.texasenvironment.org for more on this issue.

Good to know. And it seems to me that a simple thing that cities like Houston can do to ensure that they are not part of the problem here is to partner with computer manufacturers, and hopefully eventually TV and other electronics makers, to use their recycling centers like Westpark as dropoff locations for such e-waste, since they are already generally well known. The manufacturers can then take it from there by whatever arrangement is mutually agreeable. People will still be free to take their stuff directly to the manufacturers, but those who continue to patronize the city locations should be accommodated as well. That seems like a no-brainer to me.

And speaking of the city's recycling centers, now is the time to take your Christmas tree in to be mulched. The city's Christmas tree recycling program is going on now through January 7, though locations are closed today. There are 14 locations around the city for this. Please note the following:

Please remove tinsel, plastic bags, tree stands and water bowls. NO FLOCKED TREES ACCEPTED. Trees will be collected curbside.

For more information, call 3-1-1.

At least you know your tree will be disposed of properly this way. Please take advantage of this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 01, 2009 to Technology, science, and math

You are again correct -- manufacturers should bear responsibility for recycling e-waste collected by local governments. Unfortunately this provision was not mandatory in the 2007 legislation, but left as an option for manufacturers.

Another thing cities like Houston can do is help lobby our legislators during the session. In 2007, 16 municipalities passed local resolutions in favor of the e-waste legislation. Currently we are working to extend the existing law to cover TVs and other e-waste, cover local government collection expenses, strengthen the reporting provisions so residents will know what became of their old electronics, and provide funding for public education efforts.

Thank you for posting my earlier comment and information for your readers.

Zac Trahan
Texas Campaign for the Environment

Posted by: Zac Trahan on January 5, 2009 11:32 AM
Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)