I-News e-waste reporting has impact

Last November, an I-News investigation uncovered dangerous and illegal treatment of hazardous electronic waste that even Colorado regulators didn’t know about. State lawmakers have introduced legislation attempting to fix some of the problems I-News found.

Here’s the latest from I-News reporter Kristin Jones:


It’s hard to imagine: A flourishing local trade in hazardous electronic waste. Brokers buy it by the container-load, and sell it to the highest bidders. Their customers store it in their basements, douse it in acid or burn it in their driveways, truck it to local landfills, or ship it to Asia or Africa to be sold on the open market or dumped in toxic wastelands.

Now imagine that Colorado state agencies—including the one charged with regulating toxic waste—aren’t interfering in this trade. Instead, they profit from it by selling their own waste on the open market.

Sound far-fetched? In fact, this is just how electronic waste is handled in Colorado, an I-News investigation found last year.

Used electronics—which contain a toxic stew of arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead and other nasty ingredients along with recoverable commodities like gold and copper—are bought, sold and processed with little oversight or accountability.

A bill moving through state senate this week aims to bring some order to the market.

An auction of surplus state government property, including a large allotment of computers and other electronic devices.

An auction of surplus state government property, including a large allotment of computers and other electronic devices.

With input from the Colorado Association for Recycling, Senator Gail Schwartz introduced legislation April 29 that would require large recyclers and processors to be certified by the state public health department or national programs like e-Stewards and R2.

The intent is to prevent the kind of Wild-West brokering and overseas dumping uncovered by I-News.

“We’re trying to create through this bill a very high standard of accountability,” Schwartz told I-News. “We have to be comfortable that these goods are not ending up in the hands of someone who will bid for them and dispose of them improperly.”

Among its provisions are specific measures aimed at state agencies—whose auction of e-waste was highlighted in I-News’ investigation. The new law would require agencies to use vetted recyclers for their electronic trash. “To the extent that the state of Colorado and other government agencies are contributing to this issue, we need to tighten it up,” Schwartz said.

The proposed legislation falls short of mandating that producers take responsibility for discarded electronics—a key element of other state laws. That idea fell to stiff resistance from manufacturers here, said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling.

If the bill passes, Colorado would join 25 other states that have laws on electronics recycling. But it’s fighting the clock. Even if it passes the Senate—as seems likely—it still has to make its way through the House before the current session ends on Wednesday (May 11).

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