SEATTLE — Worn out, obsolete, fried or just plain dead. Yesterday’s
computers, cell phones, VCRs and television sets are headed for the
nation’s 2,200 landfills by the ton. Cities and states are scrambling to
cope with electronic waste. “Local governments all over the country are
trying to deal with this,” says Sego Jackson, a solid-waste official in
Snohomish County, Wash., north of Seattle. “We can’t do the same old
‘government-pays-all’ approach. We can’t afford it.”
“This is a huge problem for us in California,” says Michael Paparian, a
member of the board that manages solid waste in that state.
Although discarded electronics make up only 1% of the USA’s garbage volume,
“proliferation of consumer electronics has gotten way ahead of cities and
counties’ ability to deal with it,” says Michael Alexander, senior research
associate of the National Recycling Coalition in Alexandria, Va.
It’s not just collection and landfill costs that worry some officials and
consumer advocates. Watchdog groups fear that lead, cadmium, mercury and
other hazardous materials in electronic devices could leak from lanfills
into groundwater and endanger public health and the environment.
The consumer electronics industry, however, says health concerns are
exaggerated. “If it’s safe enough to be placed on the table where you eat,”
says Sony Electronics Vice President Mark Small, “it should be safe enough
in a landfill.”
The focus on discarded electronics, or “e-waste,” comes as the growth of
recycling slows across the USA.
“In the 1990s, we got the easy stuff” such as cans, bottles and newspapers,
says Bruce Goddard, spokesman for the Alameda County Waste Management
Authority in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Now we have the tough ones left
to deal with — like e-waste.”
E-waste topped the agenda at last week’s 20th annual National Recycling
Congress here. This week, government, industry, academic and activist-group
representatives will meet in Tampa as part of a yearlong effort
to find a
national solution. The meeting is funded in part by the Environmental
Manufacturers, retailers, local and state governments, and consumer
activists agree that reusing and recycling electronics is the best way to
cope with e-waste. But with less than 10% now recycled, the agreement stops
there. The debate centers on who is responsible: manufacturers, retailers,
consumers, waste handlers or all of them.
“There is only one person who is going to pay this in the end, and that is
the consumer,” Small says, “whether it’s a hidden fee at the time of
purchase or some kind of tax or payment at the end. Our goal is to make the
payment be zero.”
He says Sony and others are designing products that use more recycled
materials- “material that is less toxic and less hazardous.”
Some countries in Europe and Asia have enacted “extended producer
responsibility” laws. They require
manufacturers or importers to collect
their products at “end of life” and ensure sorting and recycling — often
without additional charge.
In the USA, many local governments are struggling to find an answer.
“Cities and towns have the most responsibility for handling the trash and
the least power to compel manufacturers to deal with it,” says Geoff
Beckwith, a former Massachusetts state legislator and executive director of
the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Diverse solutions are being tested:
* Hundreds of drop-off programs are being operated across the country by
governments, non-profit groups, retailers, manufacturers and recyclers.
Consumers sometimes pay a fee. The Electronics Industries Alliance, an
industry group, offers a state-by-state list on www.eiae.org.
California and Massachusetts have banned computer monitors from the
states’ landfills and incinerators. Several dozen cities in the two states,
including San Francisco, also have passed resolutions supporting “producer
|Ano da Publicação:
||Patrick McMahon, USA TODAY
||Sr. Keith Edward Ripley