is in. The big electronic box stores all offer to take your used
electronic equipment for recycling. Unsuspecting consumers
congratulate them for their forward looking stance. But what do they
do with all this recycled material?
to various estimates, 70% of discarded electronic equipment ends up
in landfills. The rest is supposedly recycled. According to some
estimates 80% of recycled material – a significant portion of it
generated in the United States – is dumped in large containers to
be shipped to low-wage countries. There, in China, Vietnam, and India
or Ghana, recycling is done largely by children and women.
takes components of machines or appliance that have stopped
functioning to convert them into raw materials for other products.
Recycling a computer would involve salvaging the plastic and metal
covers to be used in the production of other plastic or metal
products. But that is not what happens when electronics are being
basic process consists of burning or "cooking" used
computer components in order to melt the metals contained in old
computer boards – metals like gold, copper, lead. These metals can
bring in a bit of money. The plastic in the machines is worthless and
hence is simply burned. The bulk of electronic waste is not being
recycled at all but is being burned to be converted into toxic ash or
gases polluting the atmosphere that are bound to sicken the adults
doing the work.
seriously affects the growth of today's children, who are a
significant portion of the recycling workforce, and future children
women, who work in recycling, will give birth to. There is no
question that these backyard recycling operations not only do not
really recycle, but do tremendous harm to the people who make a
meager living there. Often they are undertaken in large urban
settlements, for instance in Accra, Ghana, where the pollution
injures large numbers of people.
is illegal to ship electronic waste abroad from the US but the
domestic recyclers circumvent those prescriptions by labeling used
computers, cell phones, – with bitter irony--etc. as "charitable
exist some modern recycling plants which undertake this hazardous job
in ways that are environmentally safe. One of those is in India
where, with the rising prosperity, the problem of electronic waste
takes on monumental proportions. Another such plant is located
outside Toronto. It is not clear what percentage of electronic waste
these high-tech plants process. The problem clearly is that recycling
electronic components without, frankly, killing people is expensive.
And no one seems to want to pay the price of building the requisite
plants. (I must clearly include myself in that.)
our electronic gadgets is very tempting. But before you do that you
have to ask yourself what will happen to your discarded computers,
cell phones or tablets.