On Oct. 24, students from Georgetown’s Eco-Action joined with Ecopledge, an environmental activism group, at a press conference in Red Square to raise awareness about the rapidly growing problem of electronic waste in America.

Students and participants at the press conference promoted the idea of a Computer TakeBack program, which would require manufacturers to bear the cost of dealing with obsolete computers, thus encouraging them to produce designs that are less toxic and easier to recycle. Because of its affiliation with Georgetown, Dell Computer Corp. received much of the spotlight at the conference..

Participants addressed the lack of options available for the easy and safe disposal of obsolete computers and accessories. The European Union Parliament passed a law last year requiring electronics manufacturers to reduce harmful substances and pay for the recycling of their products. There is no such ruling in the United States, however. “The worst part is that taxpayers are the ones who are paying for corporate pollution,” Elizabeth Barry (COL ’03) said.

Barry and other program supporters encouraged others to sign a petition, which not only asked for companies to initiate the TakeBack program and use safer materials, but also requested that the companies improve the working conditions of those who make their living disassembling computers and dealing with the potentially dangerous materials.

“Technically, [Dell] has a program, but you have to ship it in and shipping is about $30,” Barry said. “We’re trying to hold the company responsible.”

An outmoded computer was also passed around and signed, and will be sent, along with the petition, to Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell. Organizers said this course of action was not meant to antagonize Dell. “We are trying to work with Dell . not against them,” Barry said.

The Feb. 12 issue of Time magazine reported that computers are one of the country’s fastest-growing and most dangerous types of solid waste, and that by the year 2007, 500 million personal computers will be rendered obsolete. The main problem lies in the monitor; most are made with cathode ray tubes that contain large amounts of lead. It is believed that the disposal of CRTs is a major contributor of lead to municipal solid waste streams. The other PC parts are also a problem, as they are made of a variety of plastics that become toxic when burned in landfills.

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