27 February 2008: E-trash a potential ecological nightmare

E-trash is a potential ecological nightmare

In less than a year from now, February 17, 2009, the FCC requirement that all TV signals be broadcast in HD takes hold. Without a converter box to revert the digital signal back into analog, older TVs without digital capability will be useless.

That will likely be the impetus for many to discard the old set and upgrade to a new HD model—great for the electronic industry, but also a potential ecological nightmare.

In 2007, 30 million TV sets were sold in the U.S. alone. This number is estimated to double in the next 24 months with that conversion to HD signal in February 2009.

How many, thus far, that have been trashed, simply tossed into landfills, is anyone’s guess, for there are no real rules or laws that govern the personal disposal of TVs and computer monitors all of which contain high levels of lead, so much lead that they are consider hazardous material when they reach the end of their lives.

In addition, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices contain Mercury, Cadmium, Chromium, Phosphorous, Lithium, and Polycarbons.

Collectively it is called “e-trash,” and it is burgeoning into our greatest global ecological challenge.

E-trash: We’re not talking about the five-percent rule about the energy it takes to refashion a recycled aluminum can compared to the mining of bauxite, or about other waste including glass, steel cans, paper, and plastic that too many still carelessly dump into our landfills. We’re talking about very expensive items that are loaded with elements and compounds that are safeguarded in the production stages but cavalierly ignored when it comes to disposal.

At the end of life for such products, there are two primary ways to dispose of them: curbside pickup or hauling them to a special recycling center. Note: some electronic dealers will pick up and dispose of your old as part of their delivery-pickup program.

Keep in mind though, if your local waste-management hauler takes that old TV, it literally will be dumped in a landfill simply as another component of the whole. Even with the 200-year lined guidelines for landfill operations, the potential for deadly toxins to seep into the water table is unnerving.

More responsible individuals and dealers haul their e-trash to a dealer that may or may not be ethical in the ways they dispose of the materiel. In Colorado, I have been able to uncover only two businesses, Guaranteed Recycling Xperts in Denver and Eco-Cycle in Boulder, which guarantee that every ounce of the lethal e-trash components is safely disposed of or recycled into future products.

The Basel Action Network—ban.org—has become a watchdog over such procedures. It grew from the Basel Convention that produced a treaty that governs the protocols of the recycling and disposal of e-trash.

BAN has graphically detailed the human and ecological havoc wrought by the careless disposal of our e-trash. China and Nigeria are among the countries to which careless and unscrupulous vendors haul it. Peasants without protection use hydrochloric and other harmful acids to separate copper elements and encrusted tiny particles of gold from our discarded e-trash.

Compounding the human and ecological costs, Americans are foolishly tossing their identities into the trash. That computer that was used for a variety of personal activities is still very much loaded with bits of private data including your banking information if you have done, for example, online business.

Unless the hard drive is shredded beyond repair, unscrupulous, savvy techies can easily extract your personal information. Look at it as digital identity theft direct from the Asian and African garbage dumps.

On February 16, John Miller of Guaranteed Recycling Xperts was my guest on Randy Wheelock’s Neighborhood: Earth program. To get more specifics, not only about the enormity of the problem but also about the responsible steps you can take to mitigate your participation in this human and ecological catastrophe, you can listen to the show on the KYGT website at kygt.org.

Also, check out these our two Colorado resources: Eco-Cycle at www.ecocycle.org/ and Guaranteed Recycling Xperts at www.grxrecycles.com/. Finally, you can further your own education by going to the BAN website at ban.org and survey the enormous challenge confronting us.

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