Despite one of the most comprehensive and well-funded state electronic waste recycling initiatives, Californians are still exporting approximately 160 million to 210 million pounds of this hazardous waste to developing countries each year.
That’s enough e-waste to fill more than 4,500 shipping containers which, placed end to end, would form a convoy about 35 miles long, according to the Sacramento Bee.
In 2003, the state of California enacted landmark legislation to establish a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain electronic wastes.
Key elements of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA) include:
- Reduction in hazardous substances used in certain electronic products sold in California.
- Collection of an electronic waste recycling fee at the point of sale of certain products.
- Distribution of recovery and recycling payments to qualified entities covering the cost of electronic waste collection and recycling.
- Directive to recommend environmentally preferred purchasing criteria for state agency purchases of certain electronic equipment.
The legislation has been successful in diverting large amounts of e-waste from landfills and jump-started a multimillion-dollar, publicly-funded state industry to recycle televisions, computer monitors and other video display devices.
However, it’s been discovered that a myriad of other electronic devices, like alarm clocks, VHS players and video gaming systems, are left unaccounted for under the EWRA, earning recycling facilities no profit for processing them.
This loophole leaves so-called electronics “recyclers” in California left holding the bag unless they agree to sell them for 5-10 cents a pound to other firms that will export them out of the country.
“This is where I think the federal government really needs to step up,” Jeff Hunts, manager of the TV and monitor recycling program at CalRecycle, told SacBee. “If the federal government today said, ‘Electronic scrap shall not be exported without being treated to a certain level,’ that would grow, frankly, a domestic industry.”
Until the federal government accepts that responsibility, it’s up to the recyclers themselves to make the extra effort to “treat” the electronics properly by reducing them to their simplest elements- the metals, plastics and precious minerals that can be safely exported or sold as raw materials for creating new products.
So far, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control claims that it’s not responsible for solving this e-waste conundrum.
But Sue Laney, an assistant deputy director at the DTSC did admit in a statement to SacBee that “if (California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act) is amended to make it more attractive for businesses to recycle here, rather than export components abroad, DTSC will of course fulfill its mandate” to enforce the law.
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