Greener Electronics Going Global

We don’t often think about it when we’re using our computers, cell phones, and other electronics, but these devices have created complex new toxic problems that require global collaboration to resolve. So it was a welcome event last month, when a United Nations-sponsored workshop in Vienna for the first time brought together experts from around the world to address issues of toxics in electronics.

The intent of the “international workshop on hazardous substances within the life cycle of electronic and electrical products” was to begin development of policies to foster green design, green chemistry, and phase-out of harmful chemicals in electronics; promote take-back programs; and develop means for ensuring that electronics are identifiable for reuse, recycling or safe disposal.

CEH allies in attendance welcomed the progress made at the meeting. Speaking on behalf of the International POPs Elimination Network, Senior Scientist Joe DiGangi stated that “(R)esults from the Vienna workshop provide a comprehensive roadmap that now need to be converted into actions.”

Currently there are no specific global rules to protect human health or the environment from the impact of harmful chemicals in the production, use or disposal of electronics. So it’s difficult for countries to address problems like e-waste disposal, where, for example, massive piles of outdated electronics from the U.S. are dumped in developing countries, where they can leach potentially toxic chemicals and endanger the health of children and families who work, live and play in and/or near the dump sites.

Jim Plunkett of the US-based Basil Action Network called for steps to end “More than a decade of dumping toxic e-waste,” including enforcement against the illegal traffic in e-waste, clean-up of damage done, and free take back programs for consumers around the world. Others noted the need for improved design and manufacturing, to eliminate chemical hazards to workers, consumers, and communities around production and disposal sites.