«Where does my personal computer go when it dies?» wondered Yiannis Dimitriadis, 35, a graduate of the National Technical University. He may well ask. A presidential decree in 2004 ruled that we should be recycling 44,000 tons annually, that is 4 tons per capita, at controlled recycling centers, in line with European Union legislation. At the end of the 1980s, along with 169 other countries, Greece signed the Berne Convention against the illegal distribution of waste. The member states that have ratified the convention (63, including Greece), do not export e-waste to developing countries. The average life span of the average PC declined from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005. By 2010, the amount of e-waste in the European Union is expected to reach 12 million tons annually. Ioanna Dantidi, public relations officer for Appliances Recycling SA (210.531.9780, 210.951.5648-9, www.electrocycle.gr), explained the procedure and the part her company plays in it. «The firm is the first national collection agency for the alternative management of electrical and electronic appliances. It functions as a kind of state concession. «We are licensed by the Environment and Public Works Ministry, to which we are answerable,» she said. E-waste collection depends to a great extent on the municipalities and the agreement they reach with the authority concerned. Nevertheless, this is no easy matter. «The first problem is finding a storage place and the second is finding a way to collect the waste from the municipalities.» The municipalities who do collect this waste undertake to transport it to appropriate sites and from there to the Greek Recycling Center (EKAN), the only recycling center for PCs at the moment, although another eight are expected to start operations in 2008. Appliances Recycling has arrangements with 136 municipalities, which are paid 140 to 180 euros per ton for their cooperation. «This gives them an incentive, because even though they are obliged by law, there are many ways to shirk that obligation and they often make great efforts to do so,» said Dantidi. Gypsies have always collected scrap metal, but now much of this waste consists of electrical appliances, including computers. According to mechanical and civil engineer Giorgos Vakontios, vice president of EKAN, the Gypsies remove the glass, plastic and copper to sell separately to the recycling centers. However, they then throw away what is left in garbage dumps. Computers are pollutants in themselves. Even if EKAN collects PCs from waste lots, it is too late. EKAN processes up to 20,000 tons of e-waste every year. As Greece produces a total of 170,000 tons, the rest ends up in garbage dumps. But EKAN is a dismantling plant, not a recycling plant. PCs are broken up and dangerous materials separated from the useful materials, which are taken to recycling plants elsewhere in Europe. However, some materials do end up in the Third World, in China and Pakistan. According to Vakontios, these countries receive different types of plastics, motors, transformers and hard disks which are sent abroad for further recycling. So Greece does send material to China once dangerous materials have been removed. The question is who decided what is dangerous. Apart from the municipalities, retailers also bear a responsibility for collecting e-waste. Although required by law to do so, it is very rare with only a few exceptions. According to Appliances Recycling, some retailers do make an effort. The DIY chain Praktiker has installed collection points for small appliances. Since the end of 2005, Cosmote has installed bins for collecting old cellphones, bluetooth appliances and batteries. International organizations are struggling to persuade manufacturers to assume their responsibilities. Greenpeace, the Basel Action Network (BAN), the main agency for monitoring e-waste based in Seattle, USA, and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (an NGO defending public health from the side effects of high technology) are waging a daily battle to prevent the illegal movement of e-waste but also to change the way major manufacturers manage their waste. They are also fighting for limits on the use of dangerous substances in the manufacture of computers and other appliances. Nokia tops the Greenpeace e-waste scorecard. It is withdrawing dangerous chemicals from many of its products. Sony Ericsson is close behind. Near the bottom of the list are Apple, Hewlett Packard and Panasonic. EU legislation has already been amended so that producers will now be responsible for recycling their waste. The cost of abiding by the legislation, which is likely to raise product prices, is estimated to amount to 500-900 million euros. This article first appeared in the October 21 issue of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday supplement.