The Story of eWaste

When it comes to technology, we are a society hell bent on having the next newest toy; the next TV, the newest phone, regardless if our current one works just fine. But what really happens when we get rid of our old electronics. Just like plastic recycling, it’s probably not what you thought. The Basel Action Network went out to track down the answer to this question. What they found is disturbing.

Now, when I say “track” I mean track. What the organization did was put trackers in 205 printers and TV monitors, and delivered them to numerous recyclers and charities.  Then they watched where the items went.

Of the 152 items that went to eWaste recyclers, 40% ended up, illegally, off shore, mostly in China/Hong Kong. Many of the recycler’s website were “green washed” claiming not to ship the items off shore at all. This makes it particularly difficult for consumers to find an ethical recycler. Still, my favorite quotes from the report:

“The public must realize that the claims written on a website or in an advertisement may very well be baseless or outright lies.”

With some basic extrapolations BAN estimates that 314,000 tons of eWaste are shipped out annually, equating to 43 shipping containers a day. Workers are paid the equivalent of 60 cents per LCD screen that they can break down. A breakdown yard can earn $30,000 US every month. The average fine for eWaste smuggling is about $4,000.

The scariest part of the investigative report, is looking at the environmental impacts of such breakdown yards. Release of mercury, brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), heavy metals, toxic fumes, etc. The conditions are so bad that puddles after a rain are toxic, dangerous to even touch.

I know this isn’t a story about plastic (though plastic is a large component of our technology), but it is important to remember that everything we get rid of goes somewhere.


See the movement of items here

Read the BAN report here


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