Reasons Why Electronic Waste is Exported and Why the EPA Hopes to Control It

EPA to Control Export of Electronic Waste

“EPA Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation.” That’s the finding of a United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report to the Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives from 2008.

And we thought China was the leading nation for exporting potentially harmful products. But in fact the United States is starting to ship out electronics, seemingly to help developing nations as a way to bridge the digital divide. That’s the reason our old electronics end up in developing nations – a.k.a. the Third World. The result, according to this report is that much of it ends up feeding an industry that includes acid baths, uses cheap labor to recover the small quantities of precious metals inside, while much of the rest ends up in toxic, open-air fires.

Digital Waste on the Rise

So who says the United States doesn’t make anything anymore? We at least are making a lot of digital trash. Consider that with the events back in February, 2009 when standard definition or analog TV was turned off and the only option for consumers receiving TV via over-the-air broadcasts was to get a digital converter or a new TV. In other words, there were lots of upgrades to new technology with a lot of the old being thrown out.

And as has been reported, while there is a secondary market for many products – such as mobile phones and even computers – there isn’t much demand for aging TVs (that can’t be used in some parts of the world in the first place), or older printers. Just because China trails the United States in digital technology doesn’t mean the average rural Chinese citizen wants your old dot matrix printer.

Fortunately Congress is already looking placing restrictions on exporting e-waste as it is being called. This is because many so-called recyclers are merely dumping our old technology in far off parts of the world. Thus the point to consider is just because someone will take your old CRT monitor off your desk, doesn’t mean it will actually go to good use.

As with charities it is probably a good time to give these seemingly benevolent companies another look. Because while what they are doing might be good for America, it might not be so good for the rest of the world.