Today is garbage and recycling day in my neighborhood. As I sort out the plastics, paper, and metals from the blue bin under our kitchen sink I am reminded why producer/seller-pay e-waste recycling programs like that just announced by the Province of Ontario http://www.ene.gov.on.ca/en/news/2008/071001.php
can and will work: by assigning costs to waste.
My community charges for trash pickup. You have to buy garbage tickets. The way to minimize the number of tickets you need to purchase is by recycling. Which is why I had my head under the kitchen sink this morning.
E-waste is a lot nastier than what I was rummaging through (I won't get into the subject of my other trash, which includes the so-far literally insoluble problem of handling cat litter). The hardware that we rely on relies on metals and plastics that are extremely toxic, such as cadmium, lead, chromium, PVCs, and polybrominated biphenyls, when released into the environment i.e. don't drink, breathe, or eat something that has been exposed to this stuff. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (hmm. does 'DNR' mean the environment? Never mind...) has a great set of pages on this topic http://www.iowadnr.gov/waste/recycling/ewaste.html
By assigning costs to disposing e-waste hopefully the manufacturers and resellers will be prompted further to find ways to 'green-gineer' their products to reduce the amount of this garbage that could well end up in our bodies (making these goods also spews out toxins). At the same time, by making these items more expensive the buyers i.e. you and I will think twice about throwing them out and instead repair or find new uses for them.
I'd like to see some entrepreneur buy discarded PCs and CRTs, strip them out and turn them into dumb thin-client terminals and web appliances, to be sold at the fraction of the cost of computers. Just like the smart people who thought of recycling inkjet cartridges.
Rebuilding these units locally/regionally also reduces the enormous amount of greenhouse gas and other emissions incurred in shipping new computers such as from Asia. The hulking diesel-burning container ships are a major pollution source in port cities like Seattle and Vancouver, BC as the prevailing winds spread and dump the gases and particulates on homes and businesses.
The market is there. Most corporate functions such as contact centers do not require their individual users to make sufficient amounts of computations to demand processing capabilities at their desktops. Many residents just use their computers to websurf and send e-mail and SMS. So why buy all this toxin-larded hardware that also consumes a lot of power, thereby releasing more pollutants, when it isn't needed for the tasks at hand?
Applying costs to waste, and rewards for efficiency is the best way to get all of us to go green.