Speaking of e-waste: Where gadgets go to die | The Economist

The U.S. and China produce more total e-waste than any other country, according to a new map that tracks e-waste around the world.


Difference engine: Where gadgets go to die | The Economist.

I happened to use the recycling of e-waste as an example in yesterday’s blog post (see: Just Read: Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet | Ted Eytan, MD), with the coincidence of this article in The Economist.

What little is known about recycling hazardous waste in America, for instance, suggests that only 15-20% is actually recycled; the rest gets incinerated or buried in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There is no evidence to suggest other countries are any better.

With few audits undertaken, even the EPA has to rely on assumptions and guesswork. Most observers agree that only 20% or so of the 9m tonnes of e-waste collected each year in America is processed domestically—either by reputable firms under controlled conditions, or by prison inmates with few, if any, handling requirements. In other words, the bulk of the waste—up to 80% by weight—gets exported to places in Asia and Africa where health and safety regulations are less onerous.

As I mentioned yesterday, all of Kaiser Permanente’s e-waste is handled by Arrow Value Recovery, which is certified by e-stewards, piloting its global expansion, and also compliant with Responsible Recycling Practices, as mentioned in The Economist article:

people can do their own dirty work by taking the old television set, obsolete computer or broken refrigerator to a recycler who is an accredited member of one of the two voluntary certification schemes: E-Stewards and Responsible Recycling Practices. An interactive map giving details of certified recyclers is on the EPA’s website. In Europe the number of recyclers accredited by E-Stewards is increasing steadily. The Basel Action Network, an environmental pressure group, also lists recyclers. Owning an electronic device now comes with a responsibility for its afterlife.

Ted Eytan, MD