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Recycling Tech waste – what you need to know

Recycling Tech waste – what you need to know

The U.S. is suffering from an economic crisis, yet it still hasn’t managed to recycle all of its old-tech equipment. The nation’s electronic waste totaled nearly three million tons in 2010, according to the International Trade Commission (ITC), but only 29 percent was recycled. To help address this issue, the Obama administration released a draft of guidelines making up the first federal rules for recycling e-waste on Monday. 

The new guidelines will influence state policy by encouraging more device makers and retailers to contribute toward local collection efforts that allow people to safely discard their obsolete electronics without fear of harmful exposure or breaking environmental laws. The current system allows manufacturers and retailers to create their own collection programs for used goods or partner with another group without any federal direction. For the question what can you recycle in Austin the answer is almost everything. 

“These proposed guidelines are a welcome and long overdue step,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based watchdog group. “The U.S. system for managing our growing mountains of toxic e-waste is totally broken.” The ITC reports that 5 billion pounds of old tech equipment were shipped to Asia in 2010 alone. In China, workers often extract valuable parts from electronic goods at high risk to their health and safety by taking apart devices by hand — while surrounded by noxious fumes and contaminated water — because labor costs are lower than in Western countries where recycling companies would be more likely to hire employees who use front loaders or other expensive equipment.

Dangers of improper handling of E-waste

The dangers of poor e-waste recycling were brought to public attention with the 2010 scandal surrounding shipping containers filled with old computers that ended up buried in Malaysia and China. After members of Congress called for reform, the administration released a draft of federal guidelines late last year. The draft rules are now open for public comment until mid-June, after which they will be finalized and eventually enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While all states have laws against illegal dumping, only fifteen have passed statutes regarding e-waste specifically. 

Fewer than half of those states have developed programs for collecting used devices from consumers or through retailers, according to an EPA report on state e-waste management strategies. The proposed new rules would force manufacturers into taking greater responsibility for their products by requiring them to set up take-back programs. They would also require retailers and refurbishers to create recycling plans and submit documents proving compliance to the federal government. 

“These proposed guidelines are a welcome and long overdue step,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based watchdog group. “The U.S. system for managing our growing mountains of toxic e-waste is totally broken.”  The ITC reports that 5 billion pounds of old tech equipment were shipped to Asia in 2010 alone. 

In China, workers often extract valuable parts from electronic goods at high risk to their health and safety by taking apart devices by hand — while surrounded by noxious fumes and contaminated water — because labor costs are lower than in Western countries where recycling companies would be more likely to hire employees who use front loaders or other expensive equipment.

The dangers of poor e-waste recycling were brought to public attention with the 2010 scandal surrounding shipping containers filled with old computers that ended up buried in Malaysia and China. After members of Congress called for reform, the administration released a draft of federal guidelines late last year.

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