NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2006

In recent weeks, Dell and Apple have recalled nearly 6 million -- or up to 3 tons -- of computer batteries. This sounds like a lot, but these batteries are just a drop in the bucket of our collective high-tech trash, says Elizabeth Grossman, author of the new book "High Tech Trash."

  • This year, the world will discard between 20 million and 50 million tons of computers, cellphones, televisions and other electronics.
  • Worldwide, about 4,000 tons of e-waste -- as this trash has come to be called -- are discarded every hour, about the weight of 1,800 Ford Explorers.

E-waste is one of the most complex and least biodegradable forms of trash ever produced.  It contributes about 40 percent of the lead found in U.S. landfills.  Indeed, we're now producing tech trash in quantities that dwarf everything else in the municipal waste stream, says Grossman:

  • In the United States, we discard at least 250 million computers annually, along with millions of other digital devices.
  • Texas alone will discard about 50 million PCs and TVs over the next three years.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only about 10 percent of our obsolete electronics are recycled, and at least half of those are exported to developing countries for inexpensive, labor-intensive, environmentally unsound and unhealthy recycling.

To reduce the environmental impacts of high-tech electronics, changes in manufacturing, design and disposal are already under way. But a great many more changes are needed.

Ultimately, we may have to spend a little more for our laptops and cellphones, but that increase would be a fraction of what it costs to clean an aquifer or cope with the health problems creeping up the food web, says Grossman.

Source: Elizabeth Grossman, "Before you toss that PC: Author warns of toxic high-tech trash," Dallas Morning News, September 28, 2006.


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