Pulling the plug on dirty electronics

Feature story - 23 May, 2005
What happens to your mobile or computer when you throw it away? Did you know it could end up dumped in Asia and scrapped by hand in appalling conditions? This shouldn't be happening, so we are pressuring one of the biggest bad guys, Hewlett-Packard, to come clean -- by delivering a truckload of its own electronic waste to its doorstep.

A migrant child from Henan province holds up a piece of e-waste. It was once a Nokia computer screen, now dumped in China and dismantled by poor, unprotected, migrant workers.

A Chinese child sits amongst a pile of wires and e-waste. Children can often be found dismantling e-waste containing many hazardous chemicals known to be potentially very damaging to children's health.

Because our mobile phones, computers and other

electronic products aremade using toxic ingredients

, workers at production sites are at riskof exposure and the products cannot be recycled safely when they arediscarded.

Many are routinely, and often illegally, shipped as waste fromEurope, US and Japan to Asia because it is cheaper and easier to dumpthe problem on poor countries

that have low environmental standards than totackle it at home.

Conditionswhere electronic waste (e-waste) is scrapped in southern China aretruly shocking. One of our scientists, Kevin Brigden, who has visitedhis fair share of the world's toxic hotspots, described the scene: "Theconditions in these yards are horrific. In Guiyu, southeast China, I

found acid baths leaching into streams

. They were so acidic they coulddissolve a coin in just hours. Many of the chemicals used inelectronics are dangerous and can damage people even at very low levelsof exposure."

We are conducting ongoing investigations intoscrap yards in India and China, where we have found people taking thee-waste apart by hand

and being exposed to a nasty cocktail ofdangerous chemicals.

Take a trip through the electronics lifecycle to discover why it's a problem and what can be done about it:


Why Hewlett-Packard?

Taking toxic chemicals out of products makes reuse and recycling ofelectronic products safer, easier and cheaper. This is the first stepin tackling the problem of e-waste.

We have asked all the top mobilephone and computer companies worldwide to clean up their act. Samsung,Sony, Sony Ericsson and Nokia have already taken a first step

bycommitting to eliminate toxic flame retardants and PVC plastic fromsome of their products.

But Hewlett Packard has made no such committment

, nor haveApple, Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, IBM, LG, Motorola, Panasonic, or Toshiba. At a major technology expo in Beijing webuilt a statue using the companies' e-waste collected from scrap yardsin China to demonstrate the problem these companies are causing.

Oncetoxic chemicals have been eliminated from products,

manufacturers shouldtake full life cycle responsibility

for their products and, once theyreach the end of their useful life, take their goods back for re-use,safe recycling or disposal. This is what we are campaigning for: to turnback the toxic tide of e-waste.

Become a cyberactivist

Our cyberactivists helped pressure Sony Ericsson to come clean. We need your help to ensure future victories and tackle the problem of e-waste.

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