Electronics Waste Programs Ineffective in Most U.S. States

Improvements could come from industry consensus

3 min read
Electronics Waste Programs Ineffective in Most U.S. States
Photo: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Discarded consumer electronics constitute a veritable Mount Everest of toxic trash. The worst culprits are rich nations that disproportionately send this “e-waste” to the world’s poorest countries for disposal. But new research is uncovering the true scope of the problem and the best way to solve it.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans consumers alone dispose of more than 500 000 computers, TVs, and cellphones per day. And even when those items are said to be recycled, the truth is sometimes different. The United Nations treaty known as the Basel Convention has estimated that as much as 80 percent of “safely disposed” e-waste is, in fact, shipped to developing countries to be burned, buried, or chemically dissolved—burdening some cities and watersheds in Asia and Africa with public health problems for years to come.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less