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As Leading Retailer Turns 50, Will It Take Lead on E-Waste?

June 4, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - It started in Texas a year ago: grassroots pressure on the nation's leading retailer to recycle hazardous electronic waste (e-waste). The movement has since gone national, and last week it came full circle.

More than 100 faith leaders from all 50 states signed an "Open Letter to Walmart on Stewardship of Electronic Waste." It was published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to coincide with a star-studded, early 50th-birthday celebration at Walmart's annual shareholders' meeting Friday in Arkansas. The letter urged Walmart to give consumers an easy way to drop off e-waste.

Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, thinks the company may be starting to hear activists' concerns.

"We are moving a giant, and we expect it to take some time. We just need to keep the pressure on until they respond with real substance."

Schneider's group is also asking Congress to prohibit e-waste from being shipped to dumps in developing countries. Better yet, she says, would be to intercept discarded TVs and computers before they join the waste stream.

"Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in America, and it's also very toxic. We need to keep these materials out of our landfills and responsibly recycled."

Texas Campaign for the Environment had 30,000 letters sent to Walmart CEO Mike Duke's home. In response, Schneider got a meeting Saturday with Seong Ohm, Walmart senior vice president of entertainment. She believes the discussion signals an openness by Walmart to play a larger role in reducing e-waste.

Walmart has a unique responsibility because of its commanding presence in the U.S., Schneider says. She points out that urban residents can drop off their used electronics at locations such as Best Buy and Office Depot, which already have free take-back programs, but small-town and rural residents typically have nowhere to go to do the same.

"In northeast Texas or south Texas or west Texas, you basically are out of luck in terms of recycling. But if Walmart stepped up to the plate, virtually every Texan would have convenient recycling in their community."

Walmart could also help persuade manufacturers to design new products in more environmentally friendly ways,
she suggests. The company sells more than $50 billion dollars a year in electronics.

The letter is available at http://bit.ly/K5zk5X.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX