Dell has become the first major computer manufacturer to formally ban the exports of electronic waste to developing countries, an action environmental groups hope will lead to significant change in the industry.
In the announcement made on Tuesday, the world’s second largest manufacturer of personal computers indicated they have long required contractors to keep e-waste out of developing countries but decided to publish a clear policy on the matter.
“Dell’s export policy sets the standard for others in the industry and should serve as the model for long overdue federal policy on e-waste export,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. “Unless a company has a strict program to prevent it, there is a high probability that their recycling vendors are exporting the e-waste they handle. Dell’s policy goes beyond its competitors, some of whom are still exporting non-working products to developing countries.”
Currently, the U.S. has no federal law against sending e-waste to dealers overseas, despite existence of the widely accepted Basel Convention, an international treaty which controls the cross border movement of hazardous waste.
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition estimates that the U.S. exports enough e-waste each year to fill 5,126 shipping containers, which when stacked, would reach 8 miles high. Electronics sent to developing nations tend to end up in “backyard” recycling operations, where unsafe methods to remove materials for resale are used, causing great harm to human and environmental health. According to the Coalition, a few of the harmful practices include:
- Burning wires to melt away the plastics, in order to retrieve the copper inside
- Bashing open cathode ray tubes, exposing toxic phosphur dust inside
- Burning the plastic casings, creating poisonous dioxin and furan fumes
- Throwing unwanted and hazardous leaded glass into former irrigation ditches
- Cooking circuit boards above open fires to melt lead solder
One example of such an operation is in Guiyu, China, the backdrop for the 60 Minutes investigative report titled “Electronic Wasteland.”
Dell contracts with approximately 25 recycling companies worldwide to recycle and properly dispose of non-working electronics. Regular audits of each recycling vendor are performed by Dell to ensure proper recycling and disposal of materials, according to their recycling policy. The electronics are tracked from the point of collection to end of life.