Yesterday's High Technology Makes Mountain of E-Waste
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Christmas is getting kicked to the curb and with it piles of once-new tech gadgets full of heavy metals that cause cancer, poison blood and cause a host of other maladies.
Every day, U.S. residents toss about 137,000 computers and 356,000 cell phones, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. And electronic castoffs, commonly known as e-waste, pile up like torn wrapping paper every December.
The glass in a standard television could contain as much as 4 pounds of lead. Mercury, which accumulates in fish and causes reproductive failure and kidney damage, is a common element in circuit boards. And a study released this month by a University of North Carolina scientist, found that oysters are particularly sensitive to cadmium, a toxic element common in semiconductors.
However, only seven South Carolina counties have set up recycling programs to keep the toxins of tech gadgets from leaching into the soil, water and air. Berkeley County is not one of them. Charleston, however, has one of the first and most established e-waste programs in the state.
There are eight sites where residents can dump electronic waste in Charleston. Dorchester and Georgetown counties started recycling computers and other gadgets this year.
Jana White, manager of solid waste planning and grants for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, said people are catching on to the dangers of e-waste.
"We get more calls about it all the time," she said. "And we're seeing some interest, too, from some of the landfill operators."
DHEC gave out $175,000 in grants last year to help communities jump-start electronics recycling.
But collecting defunct gadgets is an ongoing expense, as most governments have to pay companies to take it off their hands.
Charleston County, for instance, pays about $55,000 a year to offload electronics safely, according to Greg Varner, director of the county's solid waste program.
The costs involved are one of the reasons South Carolina lawmakers have not yet barred residents from throwing electronics in the trash, as their counterparts in California have done.
Last year, residents recycled less than 2 percent of their electronic waste, according to DHEC figures. About 55,000 tons of cell phones, computers and TVs went into South Carolina landfills.
"A ban is probably a good idea, but only when you've got the infrastructure in place to handle it," White said. "And that's going to take money, whether it's through fees or appropriations."
Sen. Phil Leventis, a democrat from Sumter, has filed a bill that would add a $5 surcharge to every new cathode-ray television or computer monitor sold in South Carolina.
The proceeds would be used to fund electronics recycling programs. The state has similar programs in place to tax tires ($2 per tire purchased) and motor oil (2 cents per quart).
However, Leventis' legislation stops short of penalties for those who pitch e-waste in the trash.
To see more of The Post and Courier, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.charleston.net.
Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services