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Early Trick-Or-Treaters Trick Texas Walmarts

October 31, 2011

HOUSTON - Walmart stores in Houston, Dallas and Austin, as well as in six other states, got some early trick-or-treaters this weekend. Instead of asking for candy, though, these environmental activists wanted Walmart to recycle electronic waste.

Decked out as zombie TV sets and other high-tech ghouls, Austin's "flash mob" serenaded shoppers and employees with their rendition of "Monster Mash." In Houston, they revamped lyrics of "The Adams Family" theme song. A flash-mob member explains, "What we're saying is if you don't recycle us, we're going to spew our toxins all over you as we're coming back from the dead to haunt you."

Stacy Guidry is Austin program director with Texas Campaign for the Environment, which has launched a nationwide campaign aimed at Walmart. The company sold nearly $53 billion worth of entertainment products last year, she says.

"We want Walmart to step up to plate, as the largest seller of electronics, to mirror the policies of Best Buy in taking back old electronics so they can be properly recycled, through our state law."

Texas law requires computer manufacturers to provide free recycling for customers. A similar law covering TVs takes effect next July.

Guidry says the laws are helpful, but major retailers could voluntarily offer much more convenient options. So far, only Best Buy has done so. If Walmart followed suit, Guidry says that would more than double available drop-off locations.

Walmart's website says the company is striving to become a "zero-waste" business, but it's a step-by-step process.

A recent letter-writing campaign has already collected nearly 25,000 online signatures, according to Guidry. But she says the campaign goes beyond pressuring Walmart. Flash mobs and other public demonstrations, she explains, educate consumers about the importance of keeping electronics out of the waste stream.

"People don't understand that whenever they put something on the curb, they're essentially poisoning themselves. Electronics contain toxics like lead and mercury. When this stuff hits landfills, it's crushed and those toxins start to leak out and get into the water supply."

Much of the waste winds up in developing countries that lack strong environmental, labor and health laws, she says, and these exports also cost U.S. jobs in the recycling industry. Federal legislation - HR 2284 and S. 1270 - has been introduced that would stop the export of e-waste to such countries.

The online letter campaign is at http://takeitbackwalmart.com.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX