An international project is being planned to track abandoned US cellphones, mobile devices, TVs and other electronic waste to aid recycling efforts. The project aims to recycle everything from increasingly sought-after rare earths, to gold contained in the electronics. It is estimated that as little as 10 to 15 percent of electronic waste is currently recycled properly.
Many electronic gadgets are shipped offshore from the U.S. to be recycled when they break down, or when the owner wants to upgrade to a new model. Many electronic items are also dumped in the trash and end up in landfills, or in incinerators – emitting toxins and threatening human health.
$2.5 million in funding over five years has been announced from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help with tracking the flow of U.S. e-waste around the world. There is not yet enough information available about the volumes of U.S e-waste and where it ends up.
The new project will attempt to track the flow of electronic waste to such places as Asia and West Africa for recycling or repair. Health regulations in some countries in these regions are often not as stringent as in the U.S.
E-waste is the fastest growing category of waste in the U.S. and less than half U.S states have laws demanding electronics manufacturers have recycle programs.
It is said that a million cellphones can contain 24kg (53lb) of gold, 250kg (550lb) of silver, 9kg (19.8lb) of palladium and over 9 tonnes of copper. Over a billion cellphones were sold worldwide in 2006 alone.
Image CC licensed by Samuel Mann