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Disposal / E-Waste

Most consumers are unaware of the toxic materials in the products they rely on for word processing, data management, and access to the internet, as well as for electronic games.

In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic, such as chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives.

The health impacts of the mixtures and material combinations in the products often are not known. The production of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, disk drives and monitors uses particularly hazardous chemicals, and workers involved in chip manufacturing are now beginning to come forward and reporting cancer clusters. In addition, new evidence is emerging that computer recyclers have high levels of dangerous chemicals in their blood.

The fundamental dynamism of computer manufacturing that has transformed life in the second half of the 20th century -- especially the speed of innovation -- also leads to rapid product obsolescence.. The average computer platform has a lifespan of less than two years, and hardware and software companies – especially Intel and Microsoft -- constantly generate new programs that fuel the demand for more speed, memory and power.

Today, it is frequently cheaper and more convenient to buy a new machine to accommodate the newer generations of technology than it is to upgrade the old. This trend has rapidly escalated due to widespread Y2K concerns. Yet we have no solution in North America for the rising quantities of computer junk that people are discarding. Three quarters of all computers ever bought in the US are sitting in people’s attics and basements because they don’t know what to do with them.

A May 1999 report -– "Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling Baseline Report" --published by the well-respected National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center, confirmed that computer recycling in the US is shockingly inadequate:

In 1998 only 6 percent of computers were recycled compared to the numbers of new computers put on the market that year.
By the year 2004, experts estimate that we will have over 315 million obsolete computers in the US, many of which will be destined for landfills, incinerators or hazardous waste exports.

The European Union is developing a solution that will make producers responsible for taking back their old products. This legislation – which includes "take-back" requirements and toxic materials phase-outs -- also encourages cleaner product design and less waste generation. To date no such initiative has occurred in North America and in fact, the US Trade Representative – at the request of the American electronics trade associations -- is currently lobbying against this European Union initiative!

We need your help to ask producers here in North America to take back their products and design them for safer use, reuse and recycling.

Please join the Clean Computer Campaign!