"Out with the old, in with the new" takes on a whole new meaning when the topic is electronic gear.
A new national certification program ensures that recyclers properly dispose of items such as laptops, televisions and cell phones. According to the Basel Action Network (BAN), a toxic-waste watchdog group, the oversight is necessary for what's become an international environmental nightmare.
Mike Enberg, who heads BAN's "e-Stewards" program, says it's a challenge for even the most responsible recyclers to keep up with the demand.
"E-waste is the quickest-growing portion of the waste stream and has been for a number of years -- 142,000 computers and over 416,000 mobile devices are trashed or recycled every day," Enberg said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency says more than 80 percent of e-waste in the United States ends up in landfills or incinerators, where components made of toxic chemicals or metals can leach into groundwater or pollute the air.
Too often, Enberg says, 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 explains, an e-Steward recycler uses only approved waste processors and submits to regular audits.
"Their recycling vendor yearly is audited to a standard that would preclude exporting hazardous waste to developing countries, or using U.S. prison labor to de-manufacture electronic hazardous waste, or dumping hazardous waste in landfills," Enberg said.
A jury this month convicted top executives of a Colorado company for illegally exporting hazardous e-waste.
Enberg says these cases are tough to prosecute in the United States because current exporting laws don't cover e-waste, so investigators have to prove fraud, smuggling or other charges instead.
Free "e-Stewards" drop-off sites are located in about 30 states so far, where people can be sure their cast-off electronics are recycled safely. Locations are listed at e-Stewards.org.
More information about BAN is online at ban.org.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report