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California Moves to Eliminate Dangerous E-Waste, Like Cell Phones
Jun 06, 2007
Heather Hill

We know talking on cell phones can be dangerous while driving, and some people believe using them could be hazardous to your health. But are they still a concern when they are tossed out and replaced with newer gadgets? Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has more on a statewide move to eliminate the environmental dangers of electronic waste.

A bill aimed at getting rid of toxic waste from small, hand-held electronics is moving its way through the state legislature. The Senate is now considering the legislation that would require manufacturers who want to sell their products in California to stop using certain toxic materials by the year 2010.

Lead, mercury and selenium: probably not what comes to mind when you think of your cell phone or blackberry. But state legislators say toxic materials used in the manufacturing of personal electronics present a serious threat to the environment. In landfills, the chemicals can seep into the soil and groundwater and become a health hazard. And the contamination is hard to avoid with so many electronic devices in circulation.

Lori Saldaña, Assemblywoman, 76th District: Well, if you prevent these hazardous materials from going into the devices, you don't have to worry about them in the waste stream at the end and its much more cost effective to control it at the manufacturing end than wait until it gets to the consumer end.

Saldaña is pushing the legislation. She wants to protect Calfornia's landfills from further toxic pollution. But the threat posed by dangerous toxins in electronics goes far beyond the landfill.

At this recycling facility in Vista, over one-and-a-half million pounds of electronics are recycled each month. Workers say separating out hazardous materials makes their jobs more complicated. Special precautions need to be taken to protect employees -- and ensure individual parts can be safely re-used.

Joleen Burke, E-World Recyclers: Well, if there are considered to be toxins in a material, it's actually costly for us to further recycle it. Even if you can get it down to a raw component.The idea of recycling is that it's going to go into reuse at some point in time and that it's not going to go into a landfill. So, if it's already in a state where there's nothing dangerous within it, then it makes it easier to put it into reuse in some other items or find other commodities that can be created from those products.

So what does this all mean for the electronics industry? Saldaña says California isn't the only place urging manufacturing companies to change their ways.

Saldaña: Well, initially they were hesitant. We had some early opposition. But as we worked with them, they realized it is important to be consistent with other standards of manufacturing that are developing around the world. So the consistency will be cost effective to anyone who does manufacturing and sells to a broader market around the world. This is a good standard for them to comply with.

If you're looking for a place to get rid of those old, outdated electronics, visit our website for a list of recycling links. And if you have an old cell phone, you can drop it off right here at the KPBS studios.

Note: Due to our June membership campaign, Full Focus will not air tonight at 11:00.