liThe Complex Business of Recycling E-Waste
By Verne Kopytoff on January 08, 2013
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-01-08/the-complex-business-of-recycling-e-waste IBM’s massive recycling facilities are more like rehabilitation centers. Most of the computers, printers, and servers—castoffs from IBM’s offices, along with equipment previously leased to corporate customers—are refurbished and resold. Some are salvaged for parts. But inevitably some electronics are too old to resuscitate. Therein lies one of the biggest conundrums of the digital age: How to properly dispose of e-waste, which contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. “It’s easy to buy something, but it’s hard to get rid of it,” says Richard Dicks, general manager for the IBM (IBM) division that handles the triage. Americans get rid of 47.4 million computers, 27.2 million televisions, and 141 million mobile devices annually, according to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. Only a quarter of all those devices are collected for recycling. Many states have passed laws that dictate how to dispose of electronics. Most prohibit dumping them in landfills and require that they be recycled. California’s laws, for example, are among the most stringent. Anyone buying a monitor in the state pays a recycling fee that funds e-waste disposal. Choosing a recycler isn’t as easy as it may seem. There are many options, such as free electronics collection sites, haulers that send trucks to pick up computers, and manufacturer take-back programs. But their environmental rigor varies. Horror stories of U.S. electronics shipped to developing nations and improperly stripped of valuable metals are common. In China, Ghana, and India, some recyclers do little to prevent the release of toxics materials. Workers use acid to etch metals from circuit boards, polluting the environment with heavy metals, and burn the plastic covering off of wires to get at the copper...
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