Photo via dieselboii via Flickr CC
e-Waste is finally starting to go mainstream and the issue is making its way to television viewers. While some examples of e-waste on TV are horrifying, like the Amazing Race episode that made light of dumps and the extremely hazardous environments in which e-waste "recyclers" work, other programs are diligently chipping away at the veil between gadget users, and the toxic nightmare that is building up at the end of the waste stream. BBC's latest episode of Inside Out is one such example, as host Jo Good examines the illegal dumping of UK's televisions and other electronics on developing countries. BBC's Inside Out describes the feature thus:
London's passion for new TVs and electrical gadgets is having repercussions thousands of miles away. To avoid paying for proper disposal in the UK, criminals ship containers of electrical waste and illegally dump it in Africa. They call it the Sodom and Gomorra slum in Ghana - hazardous electrical waste dumped as far as the eye can see. Its source is London's banks, councils, hospitals and even a police force. It is hard to imagine this in England, where you can be fined for not sorting your recycling box properly.
Yet somehow, tonnes of electrical waste are dumped in Ghana. We have banned the export of electrical waste, but that green law has turned toxic as criminals smuggle it out for recycling in one of the poorest countries on earth.
The fact that e-waste is finally making its way into more and more TV programs, such as the 60-minutes expose done in 2008, is great news. It is helping to boost the e-waste IQ of the viewers and bringing mainstream attention to a serious problem that has been kept quiet too long.
Here in the US, companies are just barely starting to step up, with Dell and HP both pledging to end the exports of e-waste. But that doesn't mean the flow is stopping - the illegal export of e-waste is all too common. While watchdog groups are working hard to ensure strong policies are put in place regarding exports, groups like BAN are discovering that supposedly responsible recyclers are flat out lying about where their electronics are going. Luckily, it's becoming more of a norm for companies with ethics to state exactly how they track their electronics through the entire recycling stream, keeping tabs on every component to make sure that it is properly handled. Unfortunately, that's not how everyone works...at least not yet.
Greener Computing reminds us of an important step in combating e-waste - reuse - through the announcement of the International e-Waste Competition at University of Illinois, which offers $20,000 in prize money for smart ways to reuse e-waste or otherwise keep electronics out of the waste stream.
The episode of Inside Out is currently only available if you're in the UK, but it'll probably pop up on YouTube sometime soon.