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What is e-waste?

E-waste is the improper disposal of electronic equipment resulting in massive landfill toxins. The EPA has estimated that more than 250 million computers will be disposed of over the next three years, making this the fastest growing component of our nation’s waste stream. Currently, the useful life of a computer is only 3–5 years and shrinking.

Electronic products are manufactured from various types of metals, engineered plastics, glass and other materials (all of which require energy to source and manufacture). Lead, cadmium, mercury and other substances like chromium, plastics and flame-retardants in computers are hazardous waste and can leach into the environment when landfilled, or into the air when incinerated.

The European Union is in the process of enacting the WEEE Directives (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directives). These directives will require all companies operating in or selling to EU countries to comply with national legislation. Under the WEEE Directives, equipment producers are responsible for financing the collection, treatment, recovery and disposal of all waste.

RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) is also legislation that will be written into law in the EU. This directive covers the content of hazardous material in electronic items and requires that manufacturers cease using lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, or the brominated flame-retardants PBDE and PBB, in products marketed into any EU country. The EU is currently working to institute these laws. However, because there are 25 countries comprising the EU, each with a wide range of laws and regulations, governing the disposal of such hazardous materials has been a cumbersome task.

Here in the USA, we still do not have federal legislation regulating E-waste. Restrictions for the disposal of electronic equipment are mandated by each state under hazardous or universal waste laws. Massachusetts, Maine and California have been leading the way and all three states have restrictions for the disposal of any item containing CRT's (cathode ray tubes) banning them from state landfills while other states are considering similar bans. Many U.S. state and local governments are developing their own disposal guidelines. More than 24 bills are before various state and city legislatures regarding the handling of E-waste.


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