A decade ago when I was a network administrator, I saw the company where I worked go through electronic equipment like it was going out of style.  It seemed like every year we purchased new monitors, new desktops, the latest and greatest printer models, and so much more.  During that entire time, I never thought about where the products went after they were replaced.  I imagined some big e-waste graveyard and I wasn’t too far off.

Today, a lot of electronic waste is being shipped to developing countries and the products aren’t being disposed of properly.  This is toxic to both the environment and the employees who are handling the disposal of the products.  To help take a stand against this practice, Dell Inc has announced that they will ban the exportation of e-waste to these developing nations.

“Dell said it had already required contractors to keep e-waste out of developing countries. But until now, the company had not published as clear a policy for the handling of electronics collected by its consumer and business recycling programs — 290 million pounds in the five or so years since Dell started counting.”  Source:  Associated Press

According to the Dell Electronics Disposition Policy (PDF), the priority should be on maximizing reuse opportunities including refurbishment and recycling.  However, should an item be considered a non-working part or device, then it is classified as electronic waste.  These are the types of products being targeted in Dell’s official ban of e-waste exports to developing countries.

I wanted to learn a bit more about what happens to e-waste once it leaves the United States and found an interesting article on Greenpeace International’s website, Where does e-waste end up?

“E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international law. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47 percent of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal.”  Greenpeace International

However, electronic waste exported from the United States is not considered illegal because the country has not ratified the Basel Convention. So although Dell could legally export e-waste to developing countries, they are taking a stand against this practice by declaring an official companywide ban.

For information on what you can do when your computer reaches its end of life, read the Dell blog here at MNN:  Fountain of Youth for Your Computer.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

See also:

Dell and the environment

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