Rule change effects disposal of e-waste

Most electronics to be banned from Colorado landfills in 2013

Many consumers take the holidays as a chance to ditch the clunky old television set, the crash-prone computer or the year-old cellphone now considered outdated.

In the insatiable rush to buy the latest and greatest, it has become habit to throw away old gadgets alongside other household trash.

But think twice before you kick your next stereo system or blender to the curb. New rule changes pending for 2013 require Coloradans to recycle electronic waste separately.

A state bill, SB 12-133, co-sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montose, and signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April, bans landfill disposal for most electronic devices after July 1, 2013.

Commercial businesses and city governments have been prohibited from tossing e-waste since 2003. The new law simply closes the loophole that exempted houses and hotels.

Mary Beth Miles, city of Durango’s sustainability coordinator, said Friday that city ordinance prohibits the disposal of electronics and household hazardous waste with garbage.

The city holds two-day electronic collections in the spring and fall for that purpose, Miles said. Nothing has been decided about fining repeat violators, she said.

To process e-waste, the city has contracted with Tulsa, Okla.-based Natural Evolution. It is one of 16 processors in the United States to pass three different environmental certifications under a third-party audit.

Unlike most countries, exporting junked electronics – which contain lead and other chemicals – is not explicitly illegal in the United States because it has not ratified the 1992 Basel Convention, an international treaty (other outliers include Haiti, Afghanistan, Burma and a host of African states).

The Environmental Protection Agency does require e-waste exporters to obtain the consent of importing countries, and in 2007 cracked down on the export of toxic cathode-ray tubes. But those measures haven’t stopped many companies from circumventing the rules anyway.

A 2008 Government Accountability Office report concluded the EPA rules were toothless and said “used-electronics flow virtually unrestricted, even to countries where they can be mismanaged.”

Also in 2008, Englewood-based Executive Recycling was featured on an episode of “60 Minutes.” Jim Puckett, founder of watchdog group Basel Action Network, tracked shipping containers filled with computer monitors to a Chinese scrap yard, where workers dismantle e-waste for a pittance under unsafe conditions. Methods for extracting valuable metals can include open-air incinerators and acid baths, which can burn skin, raise risk of lung cancer and damage DNA.

Two top executives from Executive Recycling were indicted in September 2011 on charges of illegal export of hazardous waste. Prosecutors say Brandon Richter and Tor Olson knowingly sent about 300 containers containing more than 100,000 cathode-ray tubes overseas between 2005 and 2009, despite claiming to be a “green company.” Their cases are being heard by a district court in Denver.

Natural Evolution has been given the Basel Action Network’s “e-Steward” seal of approval, Puckett said.

lukeg@cortezjournal.com. Herald reporter Dale Rodebaugh contributed to this report.

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story