Earth Day Concern: Tech Waste

discarded cell phones
When Earth Day dawned in 1970, optimistic environmentalists predicted emerging technologies would help reduce the nation's reliance on coal, oil, insecticides and other pollutants.

But 35 years later, a big part of the problem appears to be technology itself.

Tons of computers, monitors, televisions and other electronic gizmos that contain hazardous chemicals, or "e-waste," may be poisoning people and ground water. Activists say the nation's biggest environmental problem may be the smallest devices, and this week they're launching campaigns to increase awareness about recycling cell phones, music players, handheld gaming consoles and other electronics.

In other Earth Day observances:

  • President Bush will use his visit to the environmentally-sensitive Great Smoky Mountains to promote his environmental and energy agenda, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Peter Maer. At the heart of his plan, the president says, is to "expand domestic energy production in environmentally sensitive ways."

    It's a stand that has Mr. Bush at odds with environmentalists who oppose new drilling in Alaska. Mr. Bush's Tennessee visit will also put the spotlight on air pollution. The park service says air and water pollution have a "significant impact" on the smoky mountains.

    But Don Barger with the National Parks Conservation Association in Knoxville, says Mr. Bush's great smoky view will be obscured by pollution from coal-fired power plants.

    "The park really needs the administration to step up to the true nature of these threats," Barger said.

  • House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued a statement challenging the Bush administration record. "Since the first Earth Day 35 years ago, our nation has made great strides toward cleaning up our air and water. Unfortunately, it has taken the Bush Administration less than five years to undue many of those efforts and undermine our major environmental laws."
  • Chicago's Brookfield Zoo was having an Earth Day gala Friday and Saturday that will include an environmental fair and a tree-planting ceremony. Also Saturday, Chicago launches its first permanent battery-recycling program with drop-off sites at all Chicago Public Library branches and Walgreen stores in the city.
  • After a campaign that resulted in significant improvements to the recycling program of Dell Inc., many e-waste activists are focusing on Apple. Environmentalists planned a news conference Thursday near Apple's Cupertino headquarters to coincide with the company's annual shareholder meeting.
  • California officials were marking Earth Day by promoting an effort to equip businesses with everything they need to start recycling. The department began testing the program a year ago at the Gold's Gym in Venice, the Hard Rock Cafe and Gap's San Francisco headquarters.