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Developing countries are awash in e-waste

Anuj Chopra, SF Chronicle
Once considered a problem that affects only industrialized nations, e-waste – pollution from the disposal of unwanted electronic and electrical equipment – is fast becoming a bane of developing countries.Most e-waste in India is dumped in landfills or incinerated, releasing toxins into the air and soil that can cause cancer, birth deformities and arrested brain development, health experts say.0330 01

“We’re sitting on an e-waste time bomb,” said Shetty Sreenath, who built Asia’s first eco-friendly e-waste disposal facility in 1995 in Bangalore, a southern city known as India’s Silicon Valley.

Basel Action Network, a global watchdog on toxic trade based in Seattle, estimates that 75 to 80 percent of older machines from the United States wind up in Asian countries such as India and China, where recycling costs are much lower. The number of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed in recent years – 50 million tons annually – and now makes up 5 percent of municipal solid waste worldwide, according to Greenpeace.
(30 March 2007)
Also posted at Common Dreams.

Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows

David Cay, NY Times
Income inequality grew significantly in 2005, with the top 1 percent of Americans – those with incomes that year of more than $348,000 – receiving their largest share of national income since 1928, analysis of newly released tax data shows.

The top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, also reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

While total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent in 2005, the most recent year for which such data is available, average incomes for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent.

The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The new data also shows that the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980.

Prof. Emmanuel Saez, the University of California, Berkeley, economist who analyzed the Internal Revenue Service data with Prof. Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, said such growing disparities were significant in terms of social and political stability.
(29 March 2007)
When the economic disruptions come from a constrained energy supplies, the political tensions will be much greater as a result of the polarization between the very wealthy and the rest of society. Similar patterns seem to be true in other countries as well. -BA

Mercury in Energy-Saving Bulbs Worries Scientists

Lisa Von Ahn, Reuters
..Mercury is poisonous, but it’s also a necessary part of most compact fluorescent bulbs, the kind that environmentalists and some governments are pushing as a way to cut energy use.

With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with Wal-Mart alone hoping to sell 100 million this year, some scientists and environmentalists are worried that most are ending up in garbage dumps.

Mercury is probably best-known for its effects on the nervous system. The Mad Hatter in the classic children’s book “Alice in Wonderland” was based on 19th-century hat makers who were continually exposed to the toxin. Mercury can also damage the kidneys and liver, and in sufficient quantities can cause death.

U.S. regulators, manufacturers and environmentalists note that, because CFLs require less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, they reduce overall mercury in the atmosphere by cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants. ..

Federal regulations mandate recycling of fluorescent lighting, while exempting households and other small users. Some states, however, are strict. For example, California no longer allows anyone to throw CFLs in the trash, while Massachusetts requires manufacturers to implement recycling programs and meet certain targets. ..
(26 Mar 2007)