New accord reached to reduce electronic waste
by Bill Lambrecht (Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Chief), St. Louis Post-Dispatch
15 April 2010 (Washington) – A new nationwide program to be announced today will rely on voluntary audits of waste recyclers to prevent computers and electronic garbage from winding up in landfills or being exported to developing nations.
EPC Inc. of St. Charles is one of 45 recyclers nationally taking part in a new "e-Stewards Initative," conceived as a nongovernmental solution to the growing problem of haphazard disposal of old computers, televisions, cell phones and assorted electronic garbage containing hazardous components.
Several major companies, among them Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have agreed to take part in the program and use only certified reyclers to rid themselves of electronic garbage.
The program came about from the cooperation of environmental advocates and recyclers after an Environmental Protection Agency effort to tackle the growing problem fell short of some expectations. Organizers say they were moved to act because old computers clog landfills or wind up strewn about in African and Asian countries ill-equipped to deal with lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous properties of e-waste.
"The public is starting to catch on, but there's still a lot of unscrupulous activity going on and a lot of stuff flying off our coasts," said Jim Puckett, a chief organizer of the program and executive director of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle group named for a 1989 global treaty aimed at stopping global dumping of toxic wastes.
Missouri and Illinois have been among the states wrestling with e-waste disposal. A sprawling computer dump near Rolla, Mo., that has since been cleaned up was believed to be one of the nation's worst such sites. In 2006, the Post-Dispatch tracked discarded computers to Nigeria, where hard drives containing Social Security numbers, health records and personal information were being sold.
Besides abiding by strict recycling standards, participants in the program have agreed to destroy sensitive data on computers brought to them for recycling.
Dave Beal, EPC's vice president of recycling, said the certification EPC is working toward will further refine a system designed to prevent environmental problems from e-waste. As it is, electronic gear brought to his facilitiy is disassembled with plastic, wire, steel and other metals recycled. The cathode ray tubes — monitors for computers and video — are shipped to a secondary lead smelter in Boss, Mo.
The auditing that EPC and other participants have consented to and must pay for will examine workplace safety as well as the destination of electronic wastes.
"A lot of our customers want to make sure that what we get is handled in an environmentally safe fashion," Beal said.
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