E-waste Initiative

As You Sow is working with a coalition of shareholders, utilizing our network of contacts among socially responsible investment (SRI) funds and firms, to push computer makers on responsibility for product recovery and recycling. Our members represent nearly $50 billion in invested assets. The core group includes Calvert Group, Dreyfus Premier Third Century Fund, Green Century Funds, F+C Asset Management, Pax World Fund, and Walden Asset Management.

The successes we have helped to achieve can also be attributed to pressure on the companies from a broad consumer initiative known as the Computer Take Back Campaign. The campaign urges consumer electronics manufacturers and brand owners to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products, through effective public policy requirements or enforceable agreements. It seeks to accomplish this goal by establishing extended producer responsibility as the policy tool to promote sustainable production and consumption of consumer electronics.

US companies are playing catchup to recycling rules already being implemented in Europe. A Waste from Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive adopted by the European Parliament establishes that equipment producers are responsible for financing the collection, treatment, recovery, and disposal of all electronic waste. Under a complementary new Restriction on Hazardous Substance (RoHS) law, manufacturers will have to phase out using lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, and some brominated flame retardants PBDE and PBB beginning in 2006. More information on WEEE and ROHS is available from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Concern about the fate of old computers was heightened by reports from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Basel Action Network indicating that the “recycling” of old computers can often mean dumping the discarded components in developing countries such as China, India and Pakistan where valuable materials are extracted by poor people using primitive methods that pose a threat to their health.

An investigation by Basel Action Network revealed that large quantities of obsolete computers and other used electronic equipment exported from USA and Europe to Lagos, Nigeria for “re-use and repair” are ending up gathering dust in warehouses or being dumped and burned near residences in empty lots, roadsides and in swamps, creating serious health and environmental contamination from the toxic leachate and smoke.