According to the Basel Action Network, a toxic waste watchdog group, the oversight is necessary for what's become an international environmental nightmare. Mike Enberg, who heads the "e-Stewards" program for BAN, says it's a challenge for even the most responsible recyclers to keep up with the demand.
There are "e-Stewards" free drop-off sites in about 30 states so far, including Pennsylvania, where people can be sure their cast-off electronics are recycled safely. (You can find one at E-Stewards.org.)
In the U.S., the EPA says, more than 80 percent of e-waste ends up in landfills or incinerators, where components made of toxic chemicals or metals can leach into groundwater or pollute the air.
Enberg says that too often electronics aren't broken down by recyclers for their usable components, and hazardous waste isn't safely disposed of. It may even be shipped overseas to become another country's problem. To prevent that, he says, an e-Steward recycler uses only approved waste processors and submits to regular audits.
Just this month, a jury convicted top executives of a Colorado company for illegally exporting hazardous e-waste. Enberg says these cases are tough to prosecute in the U.S. because the current exporting laws don't cover e-waste, so investigators have to prove fraud, smuggling or other charges instead.