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E-waste returns with a ready-to-wear vengeance

Poisonous ingredients in tech trash have returned to U.S. shores and stores in the form of cheap pendants and earrings.

Circuitboard cufflinks are safe.
Circuitboard cufflinks are safe.

Castoff computer parts can make for quirky jewelry, if you feel like flashing keyboard button earrings or circuitboard cufflinks.

Unlike these models of creative recycling, some costume jewelry imported from China contains heavy metals from discarded electronics and could make you sick, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

No lead in these button earrings.
No lead in these button earrings. Etsy

Some novelty necklaces and earrings are laced with lead and antimony that likely came from e-waste thrown away by consumers in the United States and other developed nations, then shipped to China for unsafe recycling. "Best Friends Forever" necklaces from Claire's mall shops and stud earrings from Kmart were recalled here in recent months. Accidentally swallowing such leaden baubles could kill a child.

Keeping lead close to your heart.
Keeping lead close to your heart. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

The story is a strange twist of fate for the materials inside some of the tens of millions of pounds of computers, monitors, cell phones, and countless other gadgets discarded each year. Watchdog groups want U.S. companies to stop shipping e-waste overseas, where poor people in China, India and elsewhere smash and burn the trash to sell gold, copper and other valuable components, but can get sick in the process from the poisonous metals and plastics. On the flip side, some consumer groups fear that the lack of federal laws around toxic tech in this country will lead to more imports of products rejected as unsafe by Asian and European markets.

When recycling your tired gadgets, it can be hard to tell what their final destination may be. This list of recycling programs from the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a good guide.