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Many electronics recycled at free events are destined for recycling in developing nations

The recycling of damaged and obsolete electronic devices has been a hot topic here in America. Many states and environmental watchdog agencies want to keep potentially hazardous materials out of the landfills in America. The issue is that it is possible that hazardous materials used in electronics could seep into the ground water.

To help prevent electronics from ending up in landfills, there have been many recycling events held around the U.S. that are sponsored by electronics makers and are sometimes sponsored by companies who plan to recycle the products for their plastics, glass, and precious metals.

USA Today reports that activists are warning that items collected at free electronic recycling events are often ending up in salvage yards in developing nations. Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition says, “If nobody is paying (the collectors) to take this stuff, especially if they're getting a lot of televisions, then they are very likely exporting because that's how they make the economics work.”

The fear activists have is that the electronics that end up in developing nations will be recycled by laborers who will be exposed to toxic substances and where the toxic substances could leech into the ground water. The laborers who harvest the electronics are only paid dollars per day according to activists.

Don’t feel bad for receiving free recycling services though. The companies recycling the obsolete electronics are not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or to make the world a better place -- it’s done for profits.

Most of the companies offering free recycling are mining the products for precious metals like gold and silver. Some electronics recycling firms mine more gold form e-waste like cell phones than is produced from a gold mine.

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RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By Cheapshot on 7/7/2008 4:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
I remember reading about people stealing computers for the gold connectors over 20 years ago.

You know... when 16 meg hard drives were $2,500.

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By Smartless on 7/7/2008 5:26:39 PM , Rating: 2
Heck why not, they've been steadling catalytic converters off cars for the platinum and paladium. But what happens to the other stuff, I mean how do you "properly" dispose of lead or other toxic stuff anyway?

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By sgw2n5 on 7/7/2008 5:53:15 PM , Rating: 2
Aside from radioactive materials, most toxic compounds are exceedingly easy to store/dispose of, the catch is that some are difficult to collect.

If you can get any toxic element (Pb, Hg, As for example) concentrated "enough", it is easy to react to a more benign form.

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By masher2 on 7/7/2008 6:13:04 PM , Rating: 2
Eh? The most benign form of mercury is mercury itself. You can usually drink liquid mercury without harm, but most of its compounds are far more toxic, some in amazingly small doses. As for lead, I don't know of any "benign form" for it. The method of "disposal" isn't to react heavy metals into some compound, but rather to recycle them for reuse.

However, lead and most other elements used in electronics aren't an environmental problem in the levels they're typically used. People seem to forget these elements came out of the ground in the first place -- our foods and even our own bodies contain measureable amounts of heavy metals and thousands of other toxins. It is the dose that makes the poison, not the element itself.

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By sgw2n5 on 7/7/2008 8:43:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, absolutely. I wouldn't say that you could drink molecular mercury without harm (i think something like 5% is absorbed into tissue in the gastrointestinal tract), and it doesn't take much to induce CNS depression. It is, however, MUUUUUCH safer than organic mercury derivatives, diethyl mercury comes to mind, a few ug of that and your pretty much screwed.

The bigger problem with metalic mercury is that even at 21C, if left open, it is 100% volatile.

Pb, on the other hand, is relatively easy to deal with. The correct filter can remove nearly all of it from solution and/or air (which is good for me, i lived in southern MO). As far as a more benign form goes, its still dangerous to ingest, but halogen salts are the norm for intermediates during purification/recycling.

Depends on what you want (or what would be more economically feasible) to do with it. Recycling heavy metals is usually the cheapest way to go, pending what medium they are in.

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By masher2 on 7/7/2008 10:46:17 PM , Rating: 2
> "I wouldn't say that you could drink molecular mercury without harm (i think something like 5% is absorbed into tissue in the gastrointestinal tract)..."

No. A few hundred years ago, people still regularly drank a few tablespoons-full of mercury for use as a laxative. There are recorded cases of people drinking over a pint at a single sitting.

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By oab on 7/7/2008 10:53:12 PM , Rating: 2
You can drink mercury (it's used medicinally this way), but you can't inhale mercury (it kills people that way, potentially). You don't inject it either. You die that way too.

"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein
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