There have been many news reports and videos exposing the electronics recycling industry, usually shedding light on the irresponsible dumping that North America and other over-consuming areas of the world practice.
I have read and seen a fair bit on this issue and would like to encourage you, fellow electronics-user, to check out the latest video that I have come across. It was passed on to me by one of its producers, my friend Jodie who is a journalism grad student at UBC. Her and her classmates produced this 20 minute video and it was aired on PBS Frontline. Yesterday, they were nominated for an Emmy Award!
Click on the link to see the video "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground": http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/video/video_index.html
The sidebar on the PBS site has some good resources: how to find less toxic products, how to choose a durable electronic, environmental report cards from the big electronics producers, how to effectively clear your hard drive before recycling, how to find recyclers you can trust.
Unfortunately, the info is US-based so here is some info for Canada, and specifically Alberta.
Our electronics can be dropped off at one of the 260 municipal collection sites (such as Edmonton's Eco Stations) in Alberta. From these collection sites, electronics are transported to one of the 6 registered electronics processors (Eco Stations transfer to GEEP) where they are dismantled into its component parts (circuit boards, metals, plastics, wires and glass). This is the important part, because there are many unregistered recyclers in Alberta. While many may be doing legitimate, responsible recycling, many are not. Some are contributing to the horrible dumping overseas.
On the policy side, neither Canada nor the USA have ratified the four international treaties regulating e-waste. The main ones, the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes (1989) together with the Basel Ban Amdendment (1995), effectively ban hazardous waste exports from OECD countries to all other countries. Together, these two policies have been ratified by 68 countries (as of June 20 2010). Canada has refused to ratify the convention and, although it is illegal to export e-waste to developing countries, Environment Canada continues to find shipments of e-waste in major ports heading overseas due to poor enforcement (eg. 2002, 2006, 2007 (p.11)). In addition, Canada allows processors to ship e-waste to brokers in the USA, where there are no laws against shipping e-waste. In the words of CBC's Patrick Brown, "If dumping e-waste were an Olympic sport, Canada would win a silver medal. The United States gets the gold."
Alberta was the first Canadian province to enact e-waste legislation in 2004. Canada introduced a national recycling program in 2006. This year, the Basel Action Network created a rigorous program which certifies recyclers who use only globally responsible, safe means to process e-waste (i.e. no disposal in landfills or incinerators, no prison labor, and no export to poor communities).
The program is called e-Stewards, and to date only two Canadian companies have been certified: Redemtech in Alberta and Free Geek Vancouver in British Columbia. For another excellent video overview of why the e-Stewards program is necessary, click here. "People who care must insist on this level of accountability."
I would like to see GEEP and all the registered recyclers in Alberta (and Canada!) to get the e-Stewards certification. This may finally put my heart at ease.
July 27 Update: I was happy to learn from Connie that GEEP is in fact going through the process of getting e-Steward certification! I knew from the many tours inside of their Edmonton facility that they run an excellent operation, and I know they will be able to achieve certification.