e-waste-dump-nigeria

Imported e-waste, including TVs, computers and monitors, that can't be sold at the Alaba Market in Lagos, Nigeria, is piled up in a nearby swamp. ((Basel Action Network))

Electronic waste is a growing problem in the U.S., and the country needs a comprehensive policy to deal with it, scientists at the University of California say.

The researchers, writing in the journal Science, say the U.S. is one of the largest producers of e-waste but lacks federal policies on mandatory recycling and the elimination of hazardous materials in electronics.

Oladele Ogunseitan and his colleagues estimate that there are 1.36 million tonnes of e-waste, electronics that are broken or no longer useful, in storage in American homes.

As well, most Americans are unaware of programs that are available for safe e-waste recycling and disposal.

Since the 1990s, e-waste has become the fastest-growing component of the world's solid waste, with the proliferation of small consumer electronic devices, such as cellphones and portable music players, in industrialized and developing countries.

Toxic e-waste shows up in forms as varied as high lead levels in the blood of children in Guiya, China, where millions of tonnes of e-waste are illegally dumped, and as fire-retardant chemicals in the eggs of California's peregrine falcons.

Canada's e-waste showing up in China

The Science article points to directives in the European Union on managing e-waste and regulations on electronic and electrical waste that are coming into effect in China in 2011.

The scientists suggest laws to promote education, recycling and research into less toxic alternative materials for future electronics.

In Canada, some provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, have imposed surcharges on electronics to pay for the eventual disposal of the products. Canadians dispose of an estimated 184,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.

Although Canada has signed the Basel Convention, which regulates the import and export of hazardous wastes, e-waste from Canada still makes it to places like Guiya.

The U.S. is the only OECD country that hasn't ratified the Basel Convention.