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Toxic Trade: Exporting E-wastes

Standard Page - 2011-06-28
It is a cruel truth that the developed world can afford to buy millions of electronic gadgets every year, but rarely invests the money to make sure they are safely disposed of and recycled. Instead, the dirty work is often sent abroad – to Accra, Delhi and Guiyu.

It is a cruel truth that the developed world can afford to buy millions of electronic gadgets every year, but rarely invests the money to make sure they are safely disposed of and recycled. Instead, the dirty work is often sent abroad – to Accra, Delhi and Guiyu.

Beginning in the 1990s, governments in the EU, the US and Japan set up e-waste recycling stations. But many countries did not have the capacity to deal with the sheer quantity of waste they generated or its hazardous nature.

This keyboard once belonged to the US government and is now in an ewaste dump in China.

Therefore, they began exporting the problem to developing countries, where laws to protect workers and the environment are inadequate or not enforced. Partly because of the lack of regulation and makeshift nature of the work, it is also cheaper to 'recycle' waste in developing countries.

In developed countries, electronics recycling takes place in purpose-built recycling plants under controlled conditions. In many EU states, for example, plastics from e-waste are not recycled to avoid brominated furans and dioxins being released into the atmosphere.

In developing countries however, there are no such controls. Recycling is done by hand in scrap yards, dangerous methods are used, and children are often employed as well. Burning plastic releases toxic fumes, while acid baths leach into water resources.

A young Chinese worker bakes electronic waste to extract and "recycle" valuable metals. This practice can expose workers to dangerous chemical fumes and result in serious health hazards.

Exporting E-Waste

E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international law. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47% of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. 

Mainland China tried to prevent this trade by banning the import of e-waste in 2000. However, we have discovered that the laws are not working; e-waste continues to arrive in Guiyu, the main centre of e-waste scrapping in China.

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