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and boosting the speed of our everyday lives. Every eight months there is a new model of some type of technological device reaching the market and the old is being discarded as it is unable to keep up with our fast paced society. Where have the millions of old, unwanted computers and other electronics gone? Many have suspected, that relatively few old PC's are being recycled and that most are stored in warehouses, basements, and closets or have met there end in municipal landfills or incinerators. In recent years a great deal of attention has been devoted to the environmental impact of computers and other electronic equipment as these items pose a massive problem for municipal landfills and hazardous effects to human life. Users' manuals can be a pain to read, nevertheless are pretty handy, they cover most of everything we need to know about newly purchased equipment. What is not covered in the users' manual are the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that go into computers and other electronic devices, nor the waste computer-manufacturing generates. Of the approximately one thousand different substances included in a typical PC, every computer contains five to eight pounds of lead. Exposure to lead and other toxic ingredients, such as mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and some plastics, may stun brain development, disrupt hormone functions, cause cancer, or affect reproduction (Slone, 2000). Manufacturers combine lead; the leading toxic material found in electronic equipment, with tin to form solder, which is used in the production of circuit boards found inside electronic products. Lead is highly toxic and can harm children and developing fetuses, even at low levels of exposure. Brominated flame retardants, used in circuit boards and plastic casing, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They have also been known to interfere with thyroid and estrogen hormone systems and exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioral problems. Rechargeable batteries, contacts and switches found in computers and other electrical devices may contain lead, mercury and cadmium. Consequently, these toxins can bioaccumulate in the environment, particularly within the food chain, which is the major route of exposure. This route of exposure is known to be a possible health risk, primarily affecting the kidneys and bones. A Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) is the main component found in a television and computer monitors containing lead and exposure can cause intellectual impairment in children and damage to the nervous, blood and reproductive system in adults (SVCT, 1999). The quantity of discarded electronic products around the world has sky rocketed of the past few years. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over twenty million computers become obsolete in 1998, but only thirteen percent were reused or recycled. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released a report last February predicting that five million computers will become obsolete between 1997 and 2007, resulting in six billion pounds of plastic and one and a half billion pounds of lead. The Worldwatch Institute reported in its annual "Vital Signs" report that nearly three million tons of electronic waste was landfilled in 1997 (O'Connell, 2002). Electronic waste is now the fastest growing element of solid waste, which makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide. Due largely to the toxicity of electronic waste, there is a growing concern of what exactly is being
Japan has already passed the Appliance Recycling Law in 2001. the European Union (EU) has adopted two directives that "require the elimination of certain hazardous materials and set standards for producer responsibility for recycling and take-back.done to help deal with the municipal landfills that are being contaminated and potential health related issues that could arise if not dealt with in a timely manner. These areas include gravel pits. Detection by monitoring wells can also be very difficult at lined landfills. the United States lags far behind the rest of the industrialized nations when it comes to establishing regulations for e-waste. This process is conducted in a very primitive manner. Lee says. since relatively small holes in plastic sheeting lead to high leakage rates. 1997). The vast majority of obsolete equipment either becomes part of the scrap in landfills or is exported by recycling companies to other countries for disposal. According to Dr. these practices lead to health and environmental concerns. Globally.e. swamps or other lands. ect. Fred Lee. "detection in new landfills can be difficult since the only way to know this is detection in the monitoring wells. consumers would be surprised to know that "most companies that call themselves recyclers of computers and E-waste often do more waste trading than actual waste recycling. they were typically covered with loose topsoil. The chemicals contaminating groundwater vary among landfills.. This law requires take-back of certain electronic products and will . Rain water and precipitation would seep into the waste and carry chemicals to the groundwater below. electronics industry's failure to address the issue and the government's lack of regulations. rivers. liners were found to be unreliable. eighty percent of recycled computers are actually shipped to Asia for subsequent retrieval of reusable materials. These landfills leach toxins into groundwater used for drinking. In essence. E-waste is not cheap nor easily disposed of. In the past. What remains unsold is dumped in their country to contaminate their environment. either directly or indirectly. Common contaminates found in groundwater near these sites are chlorinated solvents. In Europe. Unfortunately. ravine. According to the report "Exporting Harm". by the Basel Action Network. and vinyl chloride. Other sites have exposed waste. such as tetrachlorethylene. Residence and commerce waste was often dumped in these areas. 2002). 2003). The likelihood of a monitoring well at a single or double lined landfill detecting an initial leak is very small. supposedly designed to prevent environmental contamination. Modern landfills also use monitoring wells to detect any problems. Some of the solvents. incinerators emit toxic air pollutants including dioxins (Landes. Likewise. This is the result of U. Old and new landfills are typically located next to large bodies of water (i." Monitoring wells should be located in areas most likely to detect contamination. can pose a cancer risk at high exposure levels." (Basel Action Network. modern landfills are designed for safety.)." (SVTC. trichloroethylene. bays.S. resulting in human implications in Asia. landfills were located in areas thought to have little value. Even the best liner and leachate collection system will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration. or fire hazards from seeping landfill gases. They are enclosed with special covers and liners o prevent rainwater from entering and exiting a landfill. Old landfills had no liners to prevent environmental contamination and when it became full. Informed industry insiders have indicated that around 80% of what comes through their doors will be exported to Asia and 90% of that has been destined for China. making leakage detection and remediation extremely difficult. Today. lakes. These wells are located at the outside edge of the landfill.
Some computer manufacturers have initiated programs by which they will take back old equipment for recycling. In Ohio. and in response to the increasing discussion of regulatory approaches under development in Europe and Japan." (McCarthy. Many local governments have held recycling collection events for computer equipment. 2002). These events typically are one-day or a series of events at specific locations and allow the general public to bring their obsolete computer equipment to a collection point to be separated by type for recycling or hazardous waste disposal. IBM. Recent news articles show that Epson has developed a similar program at a cost of ten dollars. The fees range from $13 to $34 dollars per item depending on the quantity and type of hardware that is returned. . 2002) Numerous other states have legislation in different stages of development to combat the growing problem of e-waste. The response to these types of events has shown that many consumers will take part in programs of this type. Households and small quantity generators are exempt from the strict hazardous waste management requirements. the wish to provide a stimulus for companies pioneering demanufacturing and recycling technologies. two back-to-back Saturday collection events garnered "87 tons of unwanted computers" (McCarthy. but these regulations apply only to large companies and governmental institutions. while Nebraska has introduced legislation that would impose an advance disposal fee on the sale of CRTs". In the United States. Under EPA regulations. an importer. There are basically two alternatives to establishing procedures for dealing with e-waste voluntary programs and regulated programs. In Rhode Island. 1998. While there are no federal regulations on e-waste. such as the amount of hazardous material used to make their products and the growing pile of waste that results from the dynamic pace of innovation in the Information Technology (IT) industry. most of the materials in computers are considered hazardous.soon include computers. This ordinance requires consumers to "take used equipment back to a manufacturer. The voluntary initiatives are motivated by a number of reasons. a sense that it is good business and good public relations to do so. 2002). 2003). 2003). Hewlett-Packard. some states have enacted legislation to combat the problem and many others are in the process of doing so. Another voluntary type of program is the manufacturers' take back program. Switzerland was the first country to enact legislation specifically targeting e-waste when it passed and ordinance for separate collection and recycling of electronic waste on January 14. The United States has also failed to ratify the Basel Convention. 2002)." (McCarthy. (Dahl. All three require the consumer to pay a fee when sending in computer equipment. or a retailer." (SVTC. The Basel Convention "prohibits the shipment of hazardous waste from rich countries to poor ones." (SVTC. an interest in demonstrating the feasibility of separate collection and recycling. 2002) The Netherlands passed a similar decree in April of 1998. Both California and Massachusetts have banned the disposal of CRTs. The inaction of the United States in legislating solutions to the e-waste crisis "has allowed the computer industry to resist addressing many criticisms. Retailers are required to take back old equipment if they offer the same sort of product for sale. "including the desire to protect the environment from the effects of disposal. the only regulations with regard to e-waste are the hazardous waste provisions regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. and Sony have had such programs in place for a few years. two such voluntary events "collected 161 tons of old computers" (McCarthy. which has been signed by all of the other developed nations.
includes the return to manufacturers of leased equipment. McCarthy in his Report for Congress: 1. The EPA announced on January 10. Impose bans on disposal and/or export of e-waste. I argue that each individual act must not be weighed. cell phones. keyboards. VCRs. Because existing recycling options are strictly voluntary. Fees were generally only charged for TVs and computer monitors and those fees were $10 and $15 dollars. and small household appliances of any brand to the designated location" (McCarthy. Regulate the use of hazardous substances in computers. It impacts not only the individual actually making the disposal. Furthermore. and recycling companies in an effort to raise awareness among American consumers of the value of reusing and recycling electronics and provide the opportunity to do so. monitors. 2002) We have to keep in mind what we are trying to avoid: the dumping of hazardous electronic waste not only on our own shores. Thus. Consumers were allowed to drop off "computers. . printers." (McCarthy. but each member of the community in which it takes place. We know it is harmful to the environment and to human kind to casually dispose of hazardous materials. The Plug-In To e-Cycling Campaign partners." (McCarthy. one must weigh the benefits and damages to all affected people before forming a conclusion about what is ethically right. which were identified by James E. rechargeable batters. regulations are necessary to benefit the global community. The guiding principle of utilitarian ethical theory is to increase happiness or utility. Each of these voluntary efforts show one thing: the consumer must make the effort and pay the price for recycling their electronic equipment. "manufacturer responsibility for end-of-life products disappeared. While leases were quite common when technology made computers more expensive. In April 2001." (Dahl. electronic manufacturers. Since this is a consequentialist theory. but across the seas as well. estimated by the National Safety Council at 14%. camcorders. TVs. "the availability and use of such programs has only scratched the surface of what is available to be recycled. retailers. 2002). 2. Several two-day events were held at 11 sites in 8 States across the country. but the rule must be what action results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. "Environmentally conscious owners who want to do the right thing in disposing of their outdated electronics usually must reach into their own pockets to make sure that these machines either find new homes or are recycled properly. 2003 a new campaign to encourage Americans to reuse or recycle used electronics. 3.Retailers have shown an interest in promoting electronic equipment recycling. fax machines. Best Buy announced the beginning of periodic collection efforts. with little impact on overall recycling rates. therefore. 2002). should be that improper disposal of e-waste is morally wrong and we should find appropriate means to rectify the current state of affairs. innovations in the industry have reduced the cost of equipment and leases are no longer the norm. Require labeling of computers to encourage recycling and provide information to consumers. 2002) Despite the efforts of so many voluntary programs. Some of the options to consider include the following. stereos. The rule. the rate of recycling.
(2002. Exporting harm. Many companies who now do business in Europe and Japan under stricter regulation than in the United States have adopted manufacturing processes to adhere to the stricter guidelines.com/apple27298/subtitleDFlawedTechnPap. from http://www.epa. 5.aol. (2002.htm Landes.pdf#search='james%20mccarthy%20and20ewaste . We also cannot continue to allow hazardous materials in our own landfills.ban. from http://www. April). L. If we do not take action now. F.orgle-scrap/congressioal_research_service_702. Zero waste america.pdf McCarthy. The high tech trashing of asia. J. The United States is far behind other developed countries in addressing the issue of e-waste. 2006. References Basel Action Network. Why do they not do the same in this country? Consumers must leverage their buying power and only support companies who have the highest standards when it comes to dealing with e-waste. Flawed technology of subtitle d landfilling of municipal solid waste. 2006. our children and our children's children will pay the price.htm Lee. Retrieved February 8. but this fact does not have to be a negative one. It is ethically wrong to continue on the path that requires the least amount of change. January). Hold manufacturers and importers of electronic products for the management of those products at the end of their useful life. Consumers must demand that our government take immediate action to ratify the Basel Convention or adopt similar regulations. (1997). Recycling computers and electronic equipment: Legislative and regulatory approached to "e-waste". Retrieved February 12.G.org/landfills. We can look to the successes of other countries and learn from them. from http://www. Plug-in to e-cycling.zerowasteamerica. from http://www. Report of congress. Ecotalk.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/plugin/index. from http://www. Who pays for e-junk.pdf Dahl. from http://www. Require recycled content in new computer equipment.org/E-waste/technotrashfinalcomp. 2006. Consumers must also demand that the computer industry not use double standards when manufacturing their products. July 19). Retrieved February 12.members. We cannot ignore the horrible conditions that we have imposed on the communities of developing nations by exporting our e-waste to them for processing and disposal. (2003. September). 2006.findarticles. R. (2002. Retreived February 7. Retreived February 12. Environmental health perspectives. (2005. 2006.grrn. February 25).4.com/p/articles/mi_m0CYP/is_4_110/ai_86169642#continue Environmenal Protection Agency. Retrieved February 12. 2006.
com/mag/waste_computing-damage/index. May). Waste age magazine. Retrieved February 7.htm Slone. Retrieved February 7. 2006. Just say no to e-waste. The green guide. from http://www. Fourth annual computer report card.htm#harm Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.checnet. from http://www. Conscientious computing. October 1). January 9). 2006. Retrieved February 9. A.org/cleancc/pubs/sayno.sut.org/cleancc/pubs/2002report. (1999. from http://www. Computing the damage. from http://wasteage.html Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition. (2002. 2006. (2000. Retrieved February 7.svtc.O'Connell. Clean Computer Campaign.org/HealthHouse/education/a . (2003. Background documents on hazards and waste from computers. 2006. C. December).
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