United States Postal Service launchs e-waste recycling
The United States Postal Service is developing a free
national collection program for small electronic items.
The pilot program provides envelopes with pre-paid postage
for patrons to deposit their digital cameras, printer
cartridges, MP3 players, cell phones, and PDAs. International
recycling company Clover Technologies Group will process
the devices in its United States and Mexican facilities
to refurbish and resell them, if possible.
Now limited to select cities, including Chicago and Los
Angeles, the program may expand nationwide in the fall,
and it eventually may accept a wider range of devices.
“It doesn’t cost us anything because [Clover] is paying
for postage on the envelope,” said Joanne Veto, a post
office spokesperson. “For us, it’s a really smart thing
The program would be a de facto national electronic recycling
program - the first for the United States. As the only
industrialized nation not to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention,
which requires its signatories to notify developing nations
of incoming hazardous waste shipments, many environmentalists
have criticized the country for its lack of action to
reduce the international spread of electronic garbage,
known as e-waste.
Americans discard at least 2 million tons of household
electronics each year, according to the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). Less than 20 percent of that
e-waste is recycled, although state-led initiatives are
beginning to improve this recycling rate. Once recycled,
however, e-waste is frequently sold to brokers who ship
it to the developing world, where it is often dismantled
with little regard for worker safety, then burned in
the open air or dumped into bodies of water.
The postal service program made it a priority to avoid
sending e-waste to developing countries. “Are all these
shipped to non-approved third world countries? No. Not
at all. That was a big concern of the contract,” said
Eric Martin, Clover’s vice president of sales.
If a product is not recycled, it is shipped internationally
to smelters that strip the item of its plastics and metals.
The remaining waste - in some facilities as little as
half of one percent of the total collected waste (by
weight) - is burned as fuel. But even the best industry
practices are incapable of removing all e-waste toxins.
A typical cell phone, for example, contains hazardous
lead, beryllium, chromium, arsenic and flame retardants.
While the United States is among the leaders of e-waste
production, it is not alone. According to the United
Nations Environment Program, the world produces 50 million
tons of e-waste each year. But while the United States
has encouraged manufacturers to reduce hazardous waste
in their products on a voluntary basis, the European
Union has made such reductions mandatory.