"E-Trash" A Growing Concern

techno waste solorzano

We love our electronics, but it's a fickle affair. When something better enters the picture, we dump it.

Now, there's growing concern that the nearly 3 billion electronics products that Americans cherish will wind up in landfills, reports CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2005 we threw out 2.2 million tons of unwanted electronics. Most of it went into landfills. Only about 345,000 tons were recycled.

That recycling number may soon improve. Electronics giant Sony recently began a nationwide recycling program.

"Our goal for this program is also for every pound of product we put on the market, we want to take a pound back," said Mark Small, Sony's vice president for environment, safety and health.

His plan would amount to taking back 200 million pounds of electronics -- that's what Sony produced last year.

The program provides free recycling for any Sony product taken to select waste management "e-cycling" centers.

Creative Recycling has been recycling electronics for 13 years. In a matter of minutes, TV's, stereos, fax machines, and computers are shredded to pieces.

"We do not want lead and other heavy metals going into landfills or going into our environment," said Creative Recycling's president, Jon Yob.

And in our got-to-have-the-latest tech world, the problem is only growing.

"The rate of functional obsolescence is ever increasing, and it's driving more and more equipment into the waste stream," said Yob.

That's why University of Florida scientists have built giant lysimeters, or simulated landfills, to find out if lead from electronics is leaking into the earth.

"So we filled this one up with solid waste -- garbage -- and 6 percent electronic waste, and we packed it all in, just like you pack down garbage in a landfill with a compactor. And then we trickle in water at the very top like it's rain water," said John Schert, executive director of the Center for Solid and Hazardous Waste Management at the University of Florida.

Then they collected the liquid samples.

"Our laboratory studies that we did showed the lead leakage from these was quite significant," said Schert.

The leakage was not as severe in field tests. Still, the EPA used this data to rule cathode ray tubes in TVs and colored computer monitors are considered hazardous waste.

"In the next 1,000 years, what's going to happen to this lead?" said Schert. "We don't know."

Experts believe these steps will prevent today's trash from becoming tomorrow's problem.