The History of E-Waste

1976 - The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, is the principal Federal law in the United States governing the disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste. This led to the underground and illegal dumping of E-Waste in less developed countries.

1986 - 1988 - Two inciting E-Waste incidents: The Khian Sea incident in Haiti and the Koko incident in Nigeria, from 1986 - 1988, beginning the history of E-Waste as crisis and controversy

August 31, 1986 - The cargo barge Khian Sea, registered in Liberia, was loaded with more than 14,000 tons of toxic ash from waste incinerators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The city had previously sent the waste to New Jersey, but that state refused to accept any waste after 1984. Over the next 16 months, Khian Sea searched all over the Atlantic for a place to dump its cargo. Dominican Republic, Honduras, Panama, Bermuda, Guinea Bissau and the Dutch Antilles refused. Return to Philadelphia failed, too. Ship traveled for 16 months seeking place to dump.


January 1988 - The crew finally dumped 4,000 tons of the waste near Gonaives in Haiti as "topsoil fertilizer". The rest of the ash disappeared en route from Singapore to Sri Lanka in November 1988. The ship's captain eventually admitted that they had dumped the remaining waste - more than 10,000 tons - into the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.This incident led to the creation of the Basel Convention.

March 22, 1989 - The Convention was opened for signature. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, usually known simply as the Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (LDCs).

1991 - Lawrence Summer's 1991 World Bank Memo which states "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable..."

1991 -  Switzerland, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991, beginning with collection of old refrigerators; over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. The established producer responsibility organization is SWICO, mainly handling information, communication, and organization technology.

January 1991 - The Bamako Convention (in full: Bamako Convention on the ban on the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa) is a treaty of African nations prohibiting the import of any hazardous (including radioactive) waste.

May 5, 1992 - The Basel Convention is entered into force. Of the 175 parties that ratified the Convention, only Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have signed the Convention but not yet ratified it.


April 14, 1993 -  The first major publication to report the recycling of computers and electronic waste was published on the front page of the New York Times on April 14, 1993 by columnist Steve Lohr.

May 18, 1994 - U.S. Chamber of Commerce issues a formal strategy to defeat the Basel ban, sent to U.S. government.

June 1994 - Internal U.S. State Department memo to Interagency Committee on options for U.S. position following Basel Second Conference of the Parties.

October 17, 1994 - Internal U.S. State Department memo to Interagency Committee on the Basel Convention, regarding action plan to defeat the ban decision. -- October 17, 1994

December 1994 - International Chamber of Commerce options paper to undermine the Basel Ban.

March 8, 1995 - U.S. State Department communique sent to all EU countries urging non-acceptance of Danish Proposal to amend the Basel Convention to formally transpose ban decision.

1995 -  Many nations and NGOs argued for a total ban on shipment of all hazardous waste to LDCs. Lobbying at the 1995 Basel conference by LDCs, Greenpeace and key European countries such as Denmark, led to a decision to adopt the Basel Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention. It is not yet in force, but considered morally binding by signatories.

May 23, 1998 - The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) unanimously adopted a motion which declared that “The dumping of nuclear and industrial wastes in Africa is a crime against Africa and the African people.

June 2000 - Sony Company strategy to deal with environmentalists, June 2000

December, 2001 - Guiyu, the largest E-waste site on earth,[1], is the first be documented fully, done by the Basel Action Network in their report and documentary film entitled Exporting Harm.


March 2002 - The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) is the European Community directive 2002/96/EC on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) which, together with the RoHS Directive 2002/95/EC, became European Law in February 2003, setting collection, recycling and recovery targets for all types of electrical goods.

February 2003 - The European Union implemented a similar system in February 2003, under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive, 2002/96/EC).

2003 - California was the first state to legislate around the issue of e-waste. It implemented a broader waste ban, with advance recovery fee funding  later in 2003.

September, 2003 - The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (2003 Cal ALS 526) (EWRA) is signed into California law to reduce the use of certain hazardous substances in certain electronic products sold in the state.

January 1, 2005 - The recycling fee portion of the Electronic Waste Recycling act is put into effect, requiring retailers to collect an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee (effective January 1, 2005) from consumers who purchase covered devices.

August 13, 2005 -  Electronics manufacturers are officially financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE Directive. Under the directive, each country recycles at least 4 kg of electronic waste per capita per year.

August 2006 -  Major toxic waste disposed in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire in August 2006, described as the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century. This is not E-Waste, but related to all laws that cover this type of dumping.

December 2006 -  At this meeting, November 27–December 1, 2006, the Conference of the Parties of the Basel Agreement focused on issues of electronic waste and the dismantling of ships, clarifying charter and terms of convention.

2007 - Panasonic joined with Sharp and Toshiba to create the Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Company, the first manufacturer-managed electronics product stewardship organization in the United States. This pre-dates the EPA partner programs.

August 28, 2008 - Daming report from the Government Accountability Offices of the US: Electronic Waste: EPA Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation. GAO-08-1044 August 28, 2008

October, 2008 - The Chinese State Council approved a “draft regulation on the management of electronic waste”, creating an internal national legislative response to E-Waste.

June 2009 - INECE-USEPA Workshop on E-Waste in West Africa Accra, Ghana - 24-25 June 2009. This is the first ever event of its kind held on the topic.

July 6, 2009 - Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed the "Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act". Bill S.1397 to stop illegal e-waste dumping, and calling for sustainable design of electronic equipment.


May, 2010 - Interpol held a meeting of the Global E-Waste Crimes Group co-hosted by the EPA to monitor and track illegal E-Waste import and export.

October, 2010  - The US Inspector General concluded a multi-year investigation of UNICOR, the prison recycling corporation. It issued a scathing report having found numerous violations of health, safety, and environmental laws and regulations, as well as “gross misconduct” by staff working for the Federal Prison Industries E-Waste recycling program.

November 15th – In conjunction with America Recycles Day – President Barack Obama  launches E-Waste Task Force and issues a proclamation that calls upon US citizens to improve our stewardship of the global environment, focusing specifically on waste from electronics.

March, 2011 - Microsoft and Beeatoona, a Mid-East Recycling NGO, launch partnership, as a project of USAID, to monitor E-Waste and provide recycling programs and educational outreach.

March 17, 2011  – Thirty[*] leading electronics recyclers met in Chicago to call on the federal government to lead by example and ensure that their E-Waste is not exported to developing countries. The meeting drew together e-Stewards Recyclers that have agreed to become certified to the e-Stewards Standard.

April, 2011 - NYC - new law was put into place for e-waste, described as a cutting edge initiative to combat E-Waste in New York State.

April 13, 2011 - Today , via CEA, the consumer electronics industry leaders kicked off the first nationwide electronics recycling initiative, with the goal of recycling a billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016.  Called the Billion Pound Challenge, it is part of the eCycling Leadership Initiative formed with participation from the Consumer Electronics Association, Best Buy Co. Inc., Panasonic Corporation of North America, Sony Electronics Inc. and Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., among others.

May 2, 2011 -  Today, EPA announced that it has awarded a $2.5 million grant that will help track the shipping of U.S. electronic waste to Asia and Africa.

October 5 - 6, 2011 - Orlando, FL: at E-Scrap Conference 2011 , the largest electronics recycling conference, on October 5-6. Fourth year running.