Recycling Genie is a new company that contracts with Best Buy and other electronics retailers for the collection old computers, monitors, televisions, and cell phones dropped off at their facilities. The electronics contain lead, mercury, and polyvinyl chlorides that are known to have toxicological effects such as cancer, kidney disease, and brain damage. Recycling Genie has been in negotiations to ship the e-waste to companies in China, Vietnam, and Mongolia.
There are no U.S federal laws that prohibit a U.S company from exporting e-waste to foreign countries. Congress has attempted on several occasions to legislate laws that would make it illegal to dump toxic e-waste, the proposed Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) has remained pending in the House subcommittee (“How U.S. Laws Do (and Don’t) Support E-Recycling and Reuse,” 2016). The absence of such a law raises fundamental ethical concerns in international trade. If Recycling Genie succeeds in shipping toxic e-waste to countries such as Mongolia and Vietnam, dangerous materials extraction methods are likely to degrade the environment in the receiving countries. Such countries may lack the technical capacity to dispose of the e-waste properly (“How U.S. Laws Do (and Don’t) Support E-Recycling and Reuse,” 2016). The risk of substances such as lead, arsenic, and mercury sipping through soil and groundwater leading to fatal diseases cannot be discounted. The diseases are likely to affect the poor who work in factories and informal housing sectors that are often exposed to dumping sites. Significantly, developed countries such as the U.S have the technological capacity to refurbish, reuse, or recycle the e-waste to protect the environment from degradation caused by such e-waste. Crucially, the U.S government has an ethical obligation to practice and uphold its legal practices regarding waste management.
The United Nation established the Basel Convention to stop developed countries from dumping hazardous waste in poor nations. The United States signed the Basel treaty but did not ratify it. As a signatory to the Basel Convention, the U.S has an obligation to protect the environment and human health from the dangers of toxic waste dumping in developing countries (Wang et al., 2020). The U.S traditionally adopts hard stances against environmental degradation. For example, in 2008, the U.S Federal Appeals Court threw out a rule that attempted to prevent states from enacting laws that impose tough sanctions on companies that engage in environmentally degrading practices (Shapley, 2010). The Clean Air Act required major air pollutants such as refineries and chemical manufacturers to limit pollution. The act formed the basis for EPA to enforce policies aimed at protecting the environment. The U.S has a moral obligation to apply similar standards when dealing with other nations. Dumping of e-waste in developing countries not only harms the environment but threatens the health and wellness of a large section of the human population that cannot manage toxic e-waste.
Do you agree with laws on E-Waste?