Pollution is focus as county sets rules for electronics recycling

May 11, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. May 11, 2011

In order to cut toxic chemicals from seeping into the environment, King County Council members set guidelines Monday to recycle old cellphones, computers, televisions and other electronics.

Many electronics contain toxic chemicals and pose a threat to the environment after disposal.

The ordinance requires the county contractors to follow Basel Action Network standards for responsible recycling and reuse of electronic equipment, or comparable standards.

The network is a Seattle-based advocacy organization dedicated to the proper disposal and electronics recycling, or e-cycling. The organization’s mission also includes preventing electronics waste from being exported to nations less-equipped for enforcing environmental and health standards.

King County agencies recycled more than 90,000 pounds of electronic equipment last year.

The devices may include components containing contain toxic chemicals, such as beryllium, lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and others. The potential for chemicals to leach from disposed electronic waste and into the environment has led to disposal bans at some landfills, including Cedar Hills Regional Landfill near Issaquah.

The landfill sprawls across 920 acres in unincorporated between Issaquah and Maple Valley.

Many recycling processors transport electronic waste to sites in China and developing nations in Africa. Workers then recover valuable materials from the electronics, including copper, iron, silicon, nickel and gold. In some cases, the processing is done without proper controls, putting workers in danger.

The residual waste is often abandoned and left to leach into the environment.

County Executive Dow Constantine proposed the e-cycling measure in February.

“King County has a goal of zero waste by 2030, and keeping recyclable, environmentally-toxic electronic equipment out of our landfill is an important aim of that policy,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. “This legislation will ensure our e-waste is recycled in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

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