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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 Oregonian2 on 7/8/2008 12:04:27 PM , Rating: 2
in any case, your statement is incorrect. Nearly all solder used in commercial electronics today contain nothing but trace amounts of lead -- the old 63/37 solder is typically only used by hobbyists these days.

You are arguing against yourself. Yes, currently used solder used in industry (btw, I'm an electronics engineer of 30+ years experience) has trace quantities (essentially zero) amount of lead, but it's that way BECAUSE of RoHS restrictions and because most modern manufacturing is RoHS compliant (that which you're arguing against).

If you'd like to argue that consuming lead isn't a problem and that medical claims that consumption of lead is bad are wrong, I'd like to hear it.

Also note that it's been demonstrated (by a NC State Univ study) that lead leaches out of leaded glass (as in crystal) over time such that keeping wines long term in such vessels contributes lead to one's consumption. But that doesn't mean that it's a good thing.

Do note, however, that just something that contains lead doesn't mean that it's accessible to humans. Holding a crystal glass isn't a problem, it doesn't rub off. I suspect lead ore is similar. Even holding a piece of lead might not be a problem (and even when there is a problem, it may be statistical). However if one puts wine in a decanter as mentioned above, a delivery mechanism is there. When dumps burn-down their garbage and it contains lead stuff there may be a problem. When people melt down and make their own lead weights, there may be a problem. Etc.

When it costs basically nothing to get rid of the problem and just a matter of using alternatives, it seems like a reasonable thing to do. There are situations where lead is essential without reasonable alternatives, and in those cases RoHS rules provide exceptions (although those are coming under review to see if the need is still there on a per-exception basis).

RE: I wish I had thought of it...
By masher2 on 7/8/2008 12:18:44 PM , Rating: 2
> "You are arguing against yourself. "

No, because even the original leaded solder was safe. You've still ignored the point that natural, environmental sources of lead are vast. It's already contained in our bodies and the foods we eat. A bit of leaded solder in a landfill might contribute a few atoms amount far too small to be relevant.

> "Yes, currently used solder...has trace quantities (essentially zero) amount of lead"

And yet environmentalists are still campaigning against it.

> "Holding a crystal glass isn't a problem, it doesn't rub off. I suspect lead ore is similar."

Oops -- you've already pointed out that lead will leach out of leaded glass. It does so much more readily out of lead ore. Why? Because the ore is softer, usually much more friable, and has a far higher percentage of lead in it.

> "When it costs basically nothing to get rid of the problem "

Can you not read? Dumping leaded solder has cost the industry billions...and cost us consumers far more, in the way of less reliable electronic components and higher prices.

By Oregonian2 on 7/9/2008 2:13:57 PM , Rating: 2
Can you not read? Dumping leaded solder has cost the industry billions...and cost us consumers far more, in the way of less reliable electronic components and higher prices.

I'm a practicing electronic engineer. Been one for more than thirty years. Reliability isn't a problem -- it only was an unknown up front for those who like to worry and get folk in a frenzy. Telecom folk were given an extra five or ten years "just in case" should reliability be a problem. But it hasn't been. If I want to have a board manufactured it will be cheaper for me to have it done on a RoHS line than on a lead'ed line. There were costs but it was only capital costs in terms of switch-over, runtime costs aren't really higher generally speaking that I've seen (as someone in the industry). The change-over costs are mitigated by the fact that machinery would have to have been replaced anyway due to becoming obsolete (much in the same way as say a 4" or 8" wafer fab becomes obsolete). Manufacturing technology moves on as well.

"If you mod me down, I will become more insightful than you can possibly imagine." -- Slashdot
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