RIP computers



(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Auntie Ruth remembers her first computer: a big ol’ Apple IIe with those skinny floppy disks—they were floppy; you could bend ’em—and a monitor that displayed only glowing green letters on a dark green screen. A glorified word processor, it took up half a desk and was a tremendous achievement back when.

Anyhoo, do you remember your first computer? Close your eyes, picture it. What did you do with it when its days were done? Give it to your younger sister? Sell it? Or did you take it to the dump? Where do computers go to die?

Turns out that, due to limited (if well-meaning) California legislation and no federal legislation to speak of, there is good money in exporting e-waste. Tom Knudson did a nice piece in The Sacramento Bee (“California Recyclers Find Market for Toxic Trash,” November 28), noting the horrific consequences in Third World countries when electronic waste is exported. Jim Puckett, founder of the e-waste watchdog Basel Action Network, visited the Chinese village of Guiyu, where he “saw villagers cooking circuit boards over coal-fired grills and dipping them into vats of acid to salvage precious metals, exposing themselves to a suite of poisons, including lead.” The nightmare side of your old iPod, no?

BAN enacted a pledge system by which e-waste recyclers swore against exporting waste —an honor code that reminded Ruthie of how organic veggies were certified in California when the industry was young. BAN’s voluntary system is kinked—well-meaning recyclers have ended up exporting waste against their knowledge. More recently, BAN has enacted a third-party certification process, e-Stewards, that will have more grit but lacks the regulatory consequences only the federal government can impose.

What’s the aspiring Sacramento greenie to do? There are no certified e-Stewards nearer than Sparks in Nevada. BAN links to a list of “recyclers contracted to become Certified e-Stewards Recyclers,” which includes California Electronic Asset Recovery in Mather ( They too have taken the pledge; their website boasts “the most innovative e-waste recycling technology available” and lists testimonials from Sacramento and Yolo county officials, touting CEAR as “stewards of the environment.”

Is that good enough? As good as Sacramento has? Maybe. If you take your old computer to CEAR for recycling, ask questions. Better still would be an out and out ban of exports on the federal level. We can’t do all this by ourselves.