Consumers are still largely unaware of the environmental impact when they dispose of obsolete or outdated electronics, according to the co-director of a documentary on the subject and his opinion is reinforced by an interim report on NY state laws introduced to address the problem.
E-waste is considered the world's fastest growing waste stream and in 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 2.4 million tons was generated in the United States alone.
Isaac Brown, who along with Ana Paula Habib made the film "Terra Blight"*, says that without stronger national legislation, a lot of the nation's e-waste will continue to be exported to Africa and China where they create enormous environmental issues, as depicted in this trailer.
The Innovation Trail reported on the introduction of the NYS Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act in early 2011.
The legislation was intended to create a competitive market for the recycling of used consumer electronics including computers and peripherals, televisions and accessories, small computer servers and portable digital music players; otherwise known as e-waste.
The laws required the manufacturers of the the targeted electronic products to become responsible for the collection and recycling of used electronics in the state. Another 21 U.S. states have enacted similar provisions while California is funding a similar program through a fee paid at the original purchase point.
Despite the introduction of this legislation, the documentary "Terra Blight" tracks the fate of e-waste from the United States that ends up in countries like Ghana who are ill-equipped to dispose of the components safely.
Report finds mixed result after one year of legislation in NY
A recently released interim report produced by the Product Stewardship Institute for the Natural Resources Defense Council has assessed the efficacy of the legislation in the first year of operation in New York State.
It agrees with filmmaker Brown that a loophole remains around the exporting of this kind of waste product.
"All electronics recycling companies claim to manage e-waste in an environmental sound manner; however, the reality on the ground can be quite the opposite. A few recycling companies irresponsibly export electronic waste to countries that lack the infrastructure to safely manage it."
(pg. 13 of "Reflecting On The First Year" by the Product Stewardship Institute.)
It goes on to conclude that since the legislation was introduced in April 2011 there has been a 77% increase in available collection options and that the measure has created an active market amongst recycling providers seeking out disposal contracts with local government.
New York City lags behind upstate in managing the e-waste stream
But New York City, home to 40% of the state's population, has not seen a significant change due to "logistical difficulties" and "high transportation costs" in a city where many residents don't own a vehicle.
Interim report calls on DEC for collection data to be made public
The report goes onto to call on the regulatory body, the NY state Department of Environmental Conservation to publicly release data that would verify the volume of collecting programs and assist in the monitoring of the standards around disposal.
The Product Stewardship Institute also says that there is a general lack of awareness amongst consumers of additional legislation coming into effect in 2015 which makes the disposal of electronic waste in the household trash bin illegal.
"More aggressive public education will be necessary"
Filmmaker Isaac Brown said that he made the film because although the issue of e-waste isn't new it continues to be a major "sleeper" environmental issue and that he hopes that the film encourages people to seek out appropriate sites for the disposal of their used electronics.
This isn't always as easy as it sounds. Brown says that he is often approached by people for advice on how they can responsibly dispose of their old electronics in his region of Northern Florida and he has to tell people that their only option is a two-hour drive away.
Consumers in New York state can contact the manufacturers on this DEC list for assistance with disposal and recycling.
* The documentary "Terra Blight" screens on Friday the September 14th as part of the Greentopia Film Festival at the Nazareth College Arts Center from 8.30pm and will be available to view on the internet from September 25th.