Yes, and in some cases, there is legislature to make sure that this is so. There are 23 states with e-waste laws, such as in the state of New York, which requires manufactureres to offer free programs for dropping off old electronics while simultaneously banning e-waste from being dumped in landfills. New York’s law also requires that each company recycle/reuse a stipulated amount of e-waste on an annual basis, an amount which is based on a three-year average of their sales. Some e-waste laws are for the most part voluntary or only require an education program for consumers to be instituted, which makes New York’s law stand out.
I think that more important than who is responsible–the companies that create the materials or the consumer who purchases it– is a revolution of the current system whereby the e-waste is “recycled” and reintegrated back into the industry. According to Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, 80% of North America’s e-waste ends up getting legally sent to Southeast Asia where young children, elderly women, and displaced farmers strip the reusable materials from the toxic, carcinogenic waste products for about $1.50 per day.
Should the manufacturer of anything be responsible for how the end user uses – or misuses – it? Are gun manufacturers responsible for the murders committed by guns? Are car manufacturers responsible for the deaths in cobalt mines in Congo, where some of their metals come from? Are manufacturers of stainless steel responsible for loss of chromium when people throw away razor blades? Where does such a chain of responsibility end? Manufacturers provide things that people want. While there is certainly a need for better corporate responsibility at all kinds of levels, there is also a huge need for individual responsibility on the part of people – especially blindly consuming Americans – for the things that they buy, use, and throw away.
In response to rigibson’s answer, it seems very reasonable to make large electronics companies responsible for e-waste disposal, particularly e-waste that can be directly linked to said companies via tracking systems and other methods. The larger issue within this question is the need for our present market economy to become more responsible for negative externalities – such as pollution – that are routinely unaccounted for.
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