Applause is in order for the Congressional members who finally introduced legislation that grapples with exporting electronic waste to developing nations. Enacting H.R. 2284, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, created in the House earlier this summer, would be a victory for both human and environmental rights. Moreover, it would demonstrate to the global community that the United States is committed to ethical leadership.
By passing this new legislation, Congress could finally address the ethically egregious practice of sending outdated electronics to developing nations. Many of these countries do not have the capacity to dispose this waste, which creates catastrophic health conditions in poor pockets throughout the world.
Electronic waste (e-waste) is now the fastest growing waste stream in the U.S. In 2009, the U.S. tossed 3.1 million tons of obsolete computers, televisions, cell phones, and other out-of-date electronics; as much as 80% of which were shipped overseas to be dismantled and discarded. The lax environmental laws and willing – often unregulated – labor force have enticed American companies to send electronic materials overseas, without having to deal with the problem firsthand.
Recycling electronics in America is expensive, hazardous, and laden with restrictive regulations; sending damaged goods overseas solves the “not in my backyard” problem for consumers who love their laptops and e-readers, but dread the responsibility of discarding them.
Why not let Lagos deal with outmoded iPhones and Dell PCs? Many of their electronic imports are burned in fire pits that would certainly be prohibited anywhere in this country. Or, have Guiyu, China take them. They have built an electronic waste empire 150,000 workers deep to keep up with the influx Silicon Valley unfailingly provides.
America’s dependence on international loopholes represents the worst of globalization: rich nations conveniently exploiting underdeveloped ones. As the waste is sent to China, India, Nigeria, Thailand, or Pakistan, it takes away green jobs that are needed here. Moreover, this creates highly toxic heavy metals and a trove of health concerns in the underdeveloped nations. Guiyu is paying a price for these imports that far exceed the value of any metals it extracts from this industry. According to 60 Minutes, seven out of 10 children living in Guiyu have an alarmingly high concentration of lead in their bloodstream, and the amount of this poisonous metal in the river sediment is double that of European safety levels. The groundwater has long been too polluted for human consumption and pregnancies in the city are six times more likely to end in miscarriage.
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