Electronic waste (e-waste) encompasses a wide range of discarded electronic devices such as computers, mp3 players, televisions and cell phones. Just one computer can contain hundreds of chemicals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, respiratory illness and reproductive problems. These chemicals are especially dangerous because of their ability to migrate into the soil, water, and air and accumulate in our bodies and the environment.
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the stream of e-waste is growing two to three times the rate of any other source of waste. Only 15-20 percent of e-waste is recycled, and, according to the EPA, the “vast majority” of that waste is exported. California alone exported an estimated 20 million pounds of e-waste in 2006.
SVTC is working to keep the myriad of toxic chemicals found in electronics from damaging the health of workers, communities and the environment. In partnership with national and international non-governmental organizations, we are striving to keep electronics from being exported or sent to prisons for “recycling” and advocating for the reduction and eventual elimination of noxious chemicals in electronics.
E-waste is commonly dumped in developing nations, such as India, Nigeria, and China. Workers, some of whom are children, dismantle electronics under dangerous conditions.
In the summer of 2008, SVTC witnessed firsthand the devastating effects that exported e-waste is having on communities in Delhi, India. Click to learn more about SVTC’s investigation of the working conditions of informal sector e-waste dismantlers in Delhi, India.
Citizens at Risk is an international collaboration between Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Chintan, and IMAK. This film takes the viewer to relatively unknown and forgotten areas in and around Delhi, and shows how the poor, both children and adults, recycle highly toxic electronic waste every day under perilous conditions.
Every day, e-waste is sent to U.S. prisons where inmates “recycle” it. The toxic truth is that they smash apart computer monitors without adequate protection from the glass or a respirator to keep the toxic dust from their lungs.
In 2006, SVTC released our report, “Toxic Sweatshops,” which details the deplorable health and safety conditions within electronics recycling factories run by UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries.
Want to make sure your e-waste doesn’t contribute to the problem?
Unfortunately, taking e-waste to an electronics recycler does not guarantee that it is neither exported nor sent to prisons for dismantling.
Be sure to check out to make sure the recycler you’re using is responsible and is not exporting e-waste or sending it to prisons.
Sometimes, the best intentions are not enough. We have all seen different schools and charities hold donation drives for e-waste, but not all are using responsible recyclers. Be sure to ask where the e-waste is going before you drop-off any of your electronics.
Keep your electronics from becoming a burden on communities and workers.
Make sure that your e-waste is being recycled responsibly!
SVTC is currently working with Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, a non-governmental organization based in Delhi, India, to help improve the working and living conditions of informal sector electronics dismantlers.
In 2008, SVTC joined efforts with Chintan and IMAK to create the documentary Citizens at Risk. For the first time, informal electronics recyclers give their story and talk about the hazardous effects that e-waste is having on their health and their communities.
View the full film on our Citizens at Risk film page or order your own copy of the DVD from our order page.
Electronics TakeBack Coalition
SVTC is a founding member of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which is a national coalition of community/advocacy groups that work with recyclers, policy makers, consumers and responsible businesses to shift the electronics industry to take full responsibility for the life-cycle of their products. ETBC works to require manufacturers to “take back” their old and obsolete products. By doing so, companies have the financial incentive to innovate greener designs that are less toxic and easier to recycle. ETBC also promotes responsible recycling programs to ensure that e-waste is actually recycled and is not harming people or the environment. To learn more go to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition website.