Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Recycling Broken Christmas Lights: From Illinois to China

A new law passed in Illinois will require people to recycle their old electronic gear.
Not only are consumers required to recycle TVs, computers, video games and much more, but so are manufacturers. 
Proponents hail it as an “amazing job creator” and a “boon to economic development,” not to overlook the obvious benefit of keeping toxic chemicals out of landfills and groundwater. 
According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the increasingly short life span of electronic items makes them the fastest-growing waste. They contain a lot of toxic materials — lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium — but also a lot of reusable materials — copper, gold, plastic, glass, circuit chips.
Much of this broken technology can't be refurbished or broken-down in the United States, so ends up in places like China.
There are some U.S. companies and organizations that take Christmas tree lights for free and promise to recycle them in the United States. And some of those lights may, in fact, end up being chopped in U.S. recycling plants. But most, invariably, will be sold for about 60 cents a pound, stuffed into a shipping container, and shipped to China -- to the benefit of the environment, and pocketbooks, in both countries. Indeed, if there's a weak environmental link in the chain, it's the American consumers who start it by buying tens of millions of pounds of Christmas tree lights every year, only to throw them into the recycle bin, guilt free, when a bulb breaks. But Li, for one, doesn't mind: that waste is the raw material for his green business.

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