Earth Matters Around the Web: E-Waste and (r)E-cycling

Most of the people who have seen the Earth Matters exhibition or read the posts on our blog know that one of the pressing environmental questions of our day is the disposal and recycling of electronic waste, better known as “e-waste”. This has been a particularly important question for the Earth Matters’ folks because so much of the world’s e-wase ends up in Africa.

It was just last July that two e-waste recycling company executives in the US were handed prison sentences for claiming to recycle e-waste when they were, in reality, just exporting the waste to developing countries and dumping it (click here to see the article). At least two of the photographers in our show, Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo and Mikael Subotzky, have documented the e-waste dumps in Africa, particularly the Agbogbloshie dump near Accra in Ghana. From this site come horrific images of the young people who scavenge the waste dumps and burn away the carcasses of old computer to salvage the little bits of metal that are actually recyclable.

Of course, there are many more photographers documenting these environmental and human atrocities, and there are many more charlatan recyclers making big bucks exporting our e-waste. But what about legitimate e-waste recycling? In an article from the Science Daily that was published a couple of weeks ago, one finds this leading caption “One of the first analyses of laws banning disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) in municipal landfills has found that state e-waste recycling bans have been mostly ineffective.” The article did offer a small glimmer of hope saying that California’s cell-phone recycling program has had an impact. But otherwise, e-waste recycling has moved terrible slow in comparison to America’s consumption of e-waste.

In my home state of Maryland, e-waste recycling laws were passed in 2007 and 2005 which charge fees to in-house manufacturers of televisions and computers that, in theory, provide funding to research groups and municipalities to help implement recycling of e-waste. But how effective are they? At present, many of the landfill facilities do accept e-waste.  Just a tidbit of what I found on the web for Maryland “ecycling” is below. But determining how effective they are would take the kind of investigation that was undertaken by the Basel Action Network (BAN),  a non-governmental charitable organization working to combat the export of toxic waste, toxic technology and toxic products from industrialized societies to developing countries, who helped convict the recycling executives mentioned above. We can all be glad that BAN is working to answer questions that we cannot, but a good start for our readers would be looking into their local ecycling programs and making sure to properly dispose of their e-wast, which is toxic to our world when not controlled.

Recycling Resources for Residents of Maryland

Sections “Community eCycling Collection Events“, “Permanent Collection Sites for Residents“, “Electronics Take Back and Recycling Programs“, and “Additional Resources for Residents and Businesses” contain resources availalbe for residents to recycle their old electronic equipment.  If needed, please contact your County or MDE for additional help.


Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo (b. 1978, Burkina Faso)

Untitled (from the series The Hell of Copper), 2008

Chromogenic print, 100 x 70 cm


3 thoughts on “Earth Matters Around the Web: E-Waste and (r)E-cycling

  1. Pingback: Exner E-waste Processing | Its Not Easy Being Green

  2. Pingback: Nature does not own dumpsters | Mrig Trishna

  3. Pingback: Urban Mining: Attero Poised to Disrupt e-Waste Recycling | Tradexservices Inc.

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