Photo via U.S. Army Environmental Command via Flickr CC
While many watchdog groups call for strict regulations or bans on the export of e-waste, authors of an article from the journal Environmental Science and Technology state that this could just make the whole situation worse. "Trade bans will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem,'' says Eric Williams, one of the authors of the article, which offers alternative ways to address the problem. Instead, the authors say that the volume of obsolete PCs generated in developing regions will exceed that of developed regions by 2016 to 2018, and meanwhile nothing will be done to improve the actual recycling processes in these areas. They have other suggestions that could prove more effective at reducing the environmental and health impacts of electronics. Congress is currently debating House Resolution 2595, a ban on the export of e-waste from the United States. Proposals like these often leave room for loopholes, so that products that can be resold or refurbished can still be exported. This is troubling to many watchdog groups who want to see the end of e-waste shipments to developing nations. However, the authors of "Forecasting Global Generation of Obsolete Personal Computers" say that this isn't really the issue - the issue is e-waste disposal itself.
"Rapid economic and population growth in developing countries is driving an increase in computer use in these parts of the world that is outpacing the implementation of modern and environment-friendly recycling systems," states Eric Williams, an assistant professor at Arizona State University and one of the authors of the study. " So without action, backyard recycling is certain to increase."
The authors write that for trade control policies to make an impact on the environmental problems of e-waste, policies have to be enforced and they have to cut off supply of e-waste to informal recyclers - two things that are nearly impossible to do. So a total ban on e-waste addresses just a fraction of the problem, and that direct action is needed, from paying backyard recyclers to repair and resell, rather than recycle, the incoming electronics.
"Such a system looks to be an inexpensive way to maintain jobs in recycling operations and maintain access to used computers while protecting the environment," says Williams.