About 80 percent of the electronics collected for recycling
in the United States are exported to developing countries,
notes Sara Beasley, a doctoral student of political science.
Those nations, however, lack the means to recycle e-waste
safely. “The methods used, including open burning of
printed circuit boards, acid dissolution, and simply dumping
excess materials into rice paddies and swamps, are
extremely detrimental to both workers and the surrounding
environment,” she says.
Beasley is part of a National Science Foundation–
funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research
Traineeship (IGERT) that includes students in management,
mechanical engineering, and political science, and is led by
Carol Handwerker, a professor in materials engineering.
“We recognize that the challenge of developing more
sustainable electronics is a highly complex, interconnected
issue, encompassing everything from product design to
supply chain issues to energy usage and greenhouse gas
emissions across the entire life cycle,” explains Beasley.
“Thus, the only way to adequately address it is by taking a
holistic approach, collaborating not only across disciplines
but also with industry experts, government regulators, and
environmental activists,” she says.
While altering the design of electronics to make them
less toxic would be ideal, more recyclable products would
also be more expensive to produce. Until companies bear
the cost of disposing of electronics safely, their composition
is unlikely to change. Thus, Beasley is examining why
previous conventions have been ineffective, whether
environmental groups have given up on regulations versus
voluntary efforts, and whether voluntary standards are
likely to work.
Photo by Bad Man Production/ Shutterstock.com.
RESPONSIBLE RECYCLING OF E-WASTE