Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Isn't Electronic Waste More Efficiently Managed?

Dangerous and toxic chemicals exist within our electronics - some of the culprits that lead to illness are lead, cadmium, berylium, mercury and PVC. When these materials are used during the manufacturing or recycling process of electronics, they often release hazardous dust, gas or liquid. As expired electronics sit in landfills their components break down and chemicals seep into landfills, contaminating groundwater. In fact, e-waste is, by far, the largest source of toxic waste in the world - it represents some 70% of all toxic waste in America alone.

So why doesn't the EPA do more to protect us by offering common sense regulation in regards to e-waste?

To be fair, the EPA does have controls in place for some of these toxins. Also, the EPA admits that they don't understand all of the hazards represented by e-waste nor do they have a practical process for determining risk or assessing whether recycling facilities are in compliance with federal guidelines.

But if we are to assess this situation honestly, we must take into account the limits of federal control versus state and local agency. First off, there is no national law mandating recycling. Waste management is federally regulated, the most intensely being hazardous material. However, cooperation between multiple levels of government is expected to manage waste. Sure, the EPA can create guidelines, offer suggestions and levy fines but the onus of creating programs largely falls on the states and local municipalities. And, even between the local and state level, requirements for recycling can vary wildly. This leads to a great patchwork of differing laws in our country - some effective, others not.

In short too much emphasis has been placed on states creating their own guidelines for the EPA to act decisively.

But when we are dealing with threats to people's safety, a new classification of general e-waste needs to be created. E-waste is unique in that the combined components of products can include many vectors of hazardous material. The federal government needs to take a firmer hand in passing laws that funds research to develop methods for the handling of e-waste and the EPA needs to create national standards for the disposal of such waste. After all, the EPA has nationwide standards for the handling of other toxic materials that work,

The largest problem with developing such strategies are the people who consume such devices (i.e. everyone!). In order to manage e-waste effectively awareness must be spread of it's perils. Once again, the EPA has been successful in the past - lead is a great example. If e-waste is as widely discussed and regarded as lead poisoning, then we can make great strides over the years to manage our collective risk from these toxins.  

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