Trash Talking

The electronic trash is piling up.

Each year, we humans generate 20 to 50 million tons of electronic "e-waste," containing such toxic chemicals as lead, mercury and cadmium as consumers toss out their quickly outdated cell phones, computers and televisions in favor of more high-tech models (see "How to Recycle Practically Anything," feature, May/June 2006).

Last December, member governments of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste, a treaty ratified by 20 countries in 1992, met in Nairobi to address the urgent problem of electronic waste. Unfortunately, the country producing the most hazardous waste—the U.S.—rejected the Basel amendment banning toxic waste shipments. The conference stressed the need for take-back programs for electronic products and for reducing illegal trafficking in e-waste. The idea is to pressure the electronic industry to address its own dependency on hazardous materials, to pursue green design and take responsibility for its products" lifecycles. "By partnering with the private sector and with civil society, they can promote collection chains that channel obsolete goods back to their original manufacturers for recovery and recycling," says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner. —Brita Belli