By now most of us should know something about electronic waste (e-waste), and some of the dangers it imposes. Greenpeace reports that less than 20 percent of e-waste generated in the U.S. is recycled. So then where does the other 80% go? Much of it is disposed of in landfills, and much of it is exported to developing countries.
In developing countries, especially prevalent in Africa, the valuable components of e-waste are recovered for resale. E-waste dangers stem from components that include lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold. Many of these elements are used in circuit boards and comprise electrical parts such as computer chips, monitors, and wiring. Also, many of the components and casings include flame-retardant chemicals that can pose significant health risks.
In these developing countries the valuable components of e-waste are often recovered using incineration or acid baths. Both methods expose those attempting to recover components to all sorts of short-term and long-term health risks. Even in the U.S., landfilling wastes containing so many toxic chemicals can have a disastrous effect on water resources and air quality.
Mike Thompson is the Democrat representative in Congress from California’s first congressional district, which covers Napa County northward to the Oregon border. Congressman Thompson is perhaps the most avid supporter of e-waste recycling export limitation in all of Congress.
He is a founding member of the Congressional E-Waste Working group. Congressman Thompson is also the sponsor or co-sponsor of numerous proposed legislations attempting to rid the U.S. and its developing partners of the hazards of electronic waste. Much of that legislation remains stuck in committee despite his influence in Congress and the seriousness of the problem.
The Congressman even organized a recycling event for Congress in May 2009. Congressman Thompson and 10 of his aides stood outside of the Cannon House Office Building with a pickup truck, encouraging employees to throw their used electronics into the bed of the truck.
In his home district, the Congressman organizes low-cost spaghetti feeds for those who bring along e-waste to be properly disposed. He claims to have diverted over 500 tons of e-waste from landfills by feeding his constituents. This may seem like a small step, but the more people who understand the problem, the larger the probability that Congressman Thompson will be given the support to solve the problem.
Congressman Thompson is working against the odds in spearheading the effort to control e-waste. There is a huge high-tech industry lobby, and environmental groups bicker amongst themselves constantly, not understanding that any effort to curb the problem will be positive. More legislation can follow.