Five years after California launched an ambitious effort to control pollution from electronic waste, much of our e-waste is being shipped overseas, where it is contributing to a legacy of pollution and disease that would not be tolerated in this state, a Bee investigation has found.
Domestically, California's program is doing just what officials intended: It has outlawed e-waste from landfills and jump-started a multimillion-dollar state industry to recycle televisions, computer monitors and other video display devices, paid for with public money.
But there is a blind spot: The program provides no money for anything else, meaning large volumes of low-value, hazardous electronic waste that are difficult to recycle at a profit in California are instead being exported, a consequence the state did not anticipate.
Much of it is flowing to developing nations where it is picked apart by workers exposed to a high-tech cocktail of contamination.
"Most people just don't know what's happening to their material when it's dropped off," said Taggart, one of the state's leading e-waste recyclers. "If they knew, they wouldn't be dropping it off."