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NYT: E-Waste Epidemic Creating a Toxic 'Glass Tsunami'

New York Times article highlights the growing stockpiles of toxic electronic waste and the lack of accountability behind them

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

(Photo: Melted Plastic via Flickr)

The proliferation of toxic electronic waste is creating a "glass tsunami," according to New York Times writer Ian Urbina, whose new piece highlights the surging epidemic of e-waste stockpiles and the disturbing lack of oversight that has all-but absolved the consumer electronics industry behind the mess.

Despite widespread agreement from experts and environmentalists that the solution to the growing e-waste problem is for technology companies to "design products that last longer, use fewer toxic components and are more easily recycled," Urbina laments that the consumer electronics industry "seems to be heading in the opposite direction."

He continues:

In 2009, after television broadcasters turned off their analog signals nationwide in favor of digital, millions of people threw away their old televisions and replaced them with sleeker flat-screen models. Since then, thousands of pounds of old televisions and other electronic waste have been surreptitiously unloaded at landfills in Nevada and Ohio and on roadsides in California and Maine.

The amount of electronic waste has more than doubled in the past five years. And advancements such as flat-screen technology, which contain mercury-laden fluorescent bulbs, have significantly decreased the recycling value of most monitors creating a "glass tsunami" as stockpiles of the "useless material" accumulate in warehouses nationwide.

According to industry estimates, roughly 660 million pounds of monitor glass are currently being stockpiled—many of which belong to recycling companies who have been paid to collect and responsibly dispose of the machines. However, with an estimated cost of $85 million to $360 million to responsibly recycle it all, according to e-waste research firm Transparent Planet, many of these warehouses are at the risk of, or have already been, abandoned.

The article describes one warehouse "the size of a football field" abandoned by an electronics recycling company near Fresno, California:

The crumbling cardboard boxes, stacked in teetering rows, 9 feet high and 14 feet deep, were so sprawling that the inspectors needed cellphones to keep track of each other. The layer of broken glass on the floor and the lead-laden dust in the air was so thick that the inspectors soon left over safety concerns.

Though 22 states currently have laws that declare electronic manufacturers financially responsible for recycling their own products, Urbina reports that the rampant fraud in the tracking of electronic waste and shockingly little oversight in the disposal chains has rendered the legislation virtually useless.

You can read the rest of the Times reporting here.


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