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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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Informal recycling can be friggin hazardous.
By phisrow on 7/7/2008 7:42:18 PM , Rating: 2
You shouldn't underestimate the dangers of crude recycling methods. In large part, they involve burning and roasting to separate metals from everything else. This process releases a grab-bag of really nasty stuff. Lead, mercury, cadmium, and all the various halogen compounds that fire retardant plastics generate when they burn. Acid washing to separate precious metals from lead and tin doesn't help.
The most famous case is the village of Guiyu. The place is a vast collection of open-air recycling operations, constantly surrounded by a toxic pall of smoke.(google images is your friend here). Such research as has been done suggests that the effects of contamination on the inhabitants are not pleasant.

Electronic waste is definitely recycleable; but if shipped to the developing world, the odds are very, very good that it will end up being recycled in about the least safe manner possible.

RE: Informal recycling can be friggin hazardous.
By sgw2n5 on 7/7/2008 8:50:37 PM , Rating: 2
Which is exactly why it isn't recycled in the US. It would be prohibitively expensive to safely do it here. There is a lucrative market for many of these substances, and money to be made, unfortunately it is on the backs of peoples who do not know any better.

By masher2 on 7/7/2008 10:58:17 PM , Rating: 2
I think the people know exactly what they're doing. Trading an agricultural-substinence lifestyle of 16-hour days in the rice paddies for, by their standards, moderate wealth, in exchange for what might be at most a trivial increase in their long-term risk of cancer? That's not exactly a difficult decision to make.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
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