The Exploitation of Developing Countries in E-Waste Recycling

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e-waste

With the haze of a recycling phenomenon spreading through the western world; do we really know what happens to our washed out bottles and jars? How exactly are our old clothes used? What happens to those old mobile phones? Once the trash has passed from our hands we lose interest and responsibility in where it is sent, trusting the recycling martyrs to create a greener, cleaner earth with our old bean cans.

Waste is one of the most profitable industries in the world, in a bid to cut costs and increase profit these the recycling world is becoming a hive for organised criminal activity. Activity that is in fact harming people and the environment more than if we had left that old mobile sitting in the draw a little bit longer.

Between twenty and fifty million tonnes of electrical waste is produced on our planet each year. However properly regulated e-waste recycling plants are expensive to use. Many companies have founder cheaper alternatives to properly managed e-waste recycling plants, by shipping waste to poorly managed, unregulated and sometimes illegal e-waste sites based in developing countries.

China receives around 70% of the world’s e-waste, with the vast majority of it being shipped to the Guiyu region, to electronic waste plants employ over 150,000 people. Here the labour is cheap, as is the running of the plants, which have little or no health and safety regulation.

Recycling plants like these use people, often children to extract precious metals from e-waste product, instead of the safer and more developed machinery in properly managed plants. These workers clamber over mountains of used PCs, laptops and electrical equipment to pull copper from wires. Plastics are melted over open flames allowing deadly dioxin and furans into the air, whilst circuit boards are cooked over open flames and thrown in acid baths to extract gold, releasing deadly toxins into the environment.

These underhand tactics are risking not only the areas environmental health but also human life. Workers in these plants are more prone to cancer, weak immune systems and respiratory, nerve, kidney and brain damage, due to their exposure from dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. Within the Guiyu region the ground has become so saturated with heavy metals such as lead and mercury, the ground water is deemed undrinkable, affecting the wider reaches from the actual plants. Due to the concentration of lead in the air over 80% of Guiyu’s children have been diagnosed with lead poisoning, affecting their development, attacking their rapidly developing nervous system, and at times affecting their speech and language.

With illegal e-waste recycling affecting so many people now is more important than ever to assure we are disposing of computers and mobile phones with reputable companies. IT companies are urging consumers to check for certified programmes to dispose their e-waste with, to assure that it is recycled in the appropriate plants with the most developed and safe technology, to save any more harm to these people and the environment.

Some countries are beginning to take heed and are creating alternative solutions to these illegal plants. Architects in Taiwan are currently developing and building a state of the art e-waste recycling plant, that will not only recycle e-waste but is also built from it, creating a two way recycling programme.

With the advancement in our technology follows a build-up of waste. It is the responsibility of not only the electrical companies but also the everyday consumer, to ensure they know exactly where their e-waste is headed. It is only with awareness, and properly certified recycling programmes that we can begin to save lives as well as our environment.