I’ve been aware of the issue for some time now, but it seems to me that this Chron story about electronic waste recycling fails to explore a pretty basic question.
It’s Christmas morning, and there beneath the tree was your new television, sleek and digital. Or maybe it was a new computer. Or the newest electronic gee-whiz gadget. All well and good, but what are you going to do with the old equipment it replaces?
Most people — about 88 percent according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — simply toss so-called e-waste into the trash.
Given the heavy metals and other toxic substances such equipment contains, that’s obviously a bad idea, says the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national consortium of environmental and consumer groups. But, in some cases, doing the seemingly responsible thing — hauling outmoded equipment to a recycler — is as bad as junking it, warned Barbara Kyle, the group’s national coordinator.
Often, she said, “recycled” electronics are shipped to processors in developing countries, who use primitive techniques to extract valuable metals.
“All of these plastic casings of TVs and computers contain brominated flame retardants,” Kyle said. “When they are exported to these Third World countries, plastics typically get burned. And when burned, they emit dioxins, one of the most potent toxins. This often is done right next to where people are working and living.”
Kyle said her organization advocates television and computer makers taking the lead in providing recycling services for e-waste.
You know, there’s another entity involved in the recycling process that’s a pretty big player, and which could exercise some real influence on practices like these. I’m talking about cities, which run large-sized recycling programs that often include electronic waste. The city of Houston, for example, collects e-waste at the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center as well as the South and North Environmental Service Centers. You would think that in an article like this, one would want to mention what happens to the old TVs, computers, stereos, and whatnot that people bring in for recycling, but you would apparently be wrong. I don’t know the reason for the oversight, but I do know that I’d like an answer to the question. Are we contributing to the problem by taking our old electronics to the city service centers or not? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.