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The Scope of US E-Waste

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the out-of-sight-out-of-mind dept.

Earth 249

theodp writes "Every day, Americans toss out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers, making electronic waste the fastest-growing part of the US garbage stream. A lot of the world's e-waste is exported to Guiyu, China, where peasants heat circuit boards over coal fires to recover lead (a 15" computer monitor can pack up to 7 lbs. of Pb), while others use acid to burn off bits of gold. Guiyu's willingness to deal with lead, mercury and other toxic materials generates $75 million a year for the village, but as a result. Guiyu is slowly poisoning itself with the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. The village experiences elevated rates of miscarriages, and its children suffer from an extremely high rate of lead poisoning. TIME suggests checking out recycling brokers and accredited e-stewards the next time you're ready to toss a gizmo."

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7lbs? (1, Insightful)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407289)

that seems a little excessive to me, even for a CRT, i dont suppose the OP would like to provide some sort of reference to support it

Re:7lbs? (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407319)

That's actually inline with most estimates that I've seen. Remember a CRT will often times weigh 20lbs or more and it's not that big of a box. Lead is something that's been used for quite a while for shielding radiation.

But, as for the story, it's China's fault for not enforcing their own regulations. There is now some recognition that it needs to be done responsibly, but assuming that it's the US' fault for not enforcing Chinese environmental legislation is kind of odd. Really the best thing would be for people to get information through ban.org.

Other than that my home state of WA just officially opened up manufacturer sponsored recycling sites. The only complaint that I've got about it is that there wasn't a provision requiring compliance with the Basel Convention. Hopefully there'll be enough transparency that we know whether or not a site is.

Re:7lbs? (1)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407335)

Wiki says the glass is leaded which is understandable, but surely they are not going to be trying to extract the lead from the glass, just the circuit board (from the summary 'heat circuit boards over coal fires to recover lead'), is there really still 7lbs just in the circuit board?

Re:7lbs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407857)

is there really still 7lbs just in the circuit board?

A 4in x 4in x 4in block would contain about four times that much (around 28 pounds); use your imagination.

Re:7lbs? (1)

memnock (466995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407427)

if China did enforce its regulations, would that increase costs for shipping the waste there? ecyclers would probably look for another poor nation to accept the waste, spreading the legacy of poison. why are these ecycler moving the waste to begin with?

if eventually all the target nations made ecycling less economically viable, then the material would stay where it started its life cycle as waste. how would it be dealt with then?

Chinese Recycling costs (5, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407525)

, would that increase costs for shipping the waste there?

Not really, the stuff is inert until you start disassembling and burning stuff. What it would do is increase the cost such that Guiyu wouldn't be making so much profit selling the resulting materials. Though substantial infrastructure upgrades(IE a PROPER recycling facility) would be more efficient, but would take decades or more to return on the investment.

ecyclers would probably look for another poor nation to accept the waste

why are these ecycler moving the waste to begin with?

Let's say I'm a recycling collection facility. Doesn't matter what I take. I collect various recyclable materials, from batteries to aluminum cans to paper to whole computers and refrigerators. I don't actually recycle anything myself. What I do is collect and sort the stuff. When I have around a semi-load of it, I get on the market for this stuff, keeping in mind shipping costs, and sell it to the highest bidder(IE who's willing to pay me the most), or to the lowest for stuff where I have to pay for them to take it.

International shipping is cheap - especially since with the trade balance ships are normally quite a bit lighter on their way back to china. So Guiyu wins the bids and gets the stuff because their 'processing' is extremely cheap and they gain enough money from the resulting materials to make a profit.

then the material would stay where it started its life cycle as waste. how would it be dealt with then?

1. If it's still economically viable to recycle in a less polluting manner, then it'll get recycled
2. If the host nation STILL insists it be recycled, you'll see recycling fees tacked on to either the purchase or disposal end to deal with the added expense. Like car tires here in the USA.
3. If they don't, it'll be placed in a landfill until an economical method to recycle it comes along(or raw material expenses goes up) making it profitable to dig it out of the landfill.

Re:7lbs? (3, Interesting)

lawaetf1 (613291) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407499)

While I've not been to China, everything I've read leads me to believe that China can't control what's happening. They simply don't have established institutions like the EPA and the regulatory overhead that we accept as normal for business operation in the West. Want to open a manufacturing plant somewhere? Just do it. Pay off the local party chief and set it up. Dump your waste into the local river.

That's why melamine, lead, and God knows what else ends up in food and toys.. because there's nobody to go inspect the plants and see just what it is they're doing. All the central government can do when a scandal breaks is take a bunch of guys, put them up against the wall, and hope everyone else takes note.

So, yes, while it is undeniably China's fault for not having a better handle on what's going on inside their borders, it will take years and years before they have the systems in place to be able to do anything about it.

Re:7lbs? (1)

messner_007 (1042060) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407587)

And it will take years before US have the systems in place to be able to do anything about illegal export to China and other poor lands in Africa ...

It's only the mater of desperation of people living in those countries, rather the matter of control. When US goes bankrupt, they will do the same ... US is not in the position that it would need such small money right now ... they are pushing waste to the other side of the world ... let other collect the change ... for now ...

Re:7lbs? (1)

aurispector (530273) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407653)

While I've not been to China, everything I've read leads me to believe that China can't control what's happening.

You're probably right, but is it can't or won't? Every report I've seen indicates they're completely focused on economic growth at the expense of everything else. They also tend to handle problems after the fact, which is understandable (and also how we usually do it). Every time there's some kind of incident, they set up rules and an enforcement agency (AND threaten to shoot people, as you said). What scares me is the financial markets. What will happen when their first big financial meltdown occurs?

The lack of a free press means nobody can make a stink when something bad is happening, or to expose the corrupt official allowing it to happen, or to demand creation of a regulatory body. I think this is going to cost them big time in the long run.

Re:7lbs? (1)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407967)

That's always been my question.

They seem to have the largest land army in the world that has been put to good use suppressing protectors and subjugating disputed territories but they can't direct a few of those 2.3 Million active duty troops to enforce a few environmental regulations? I call bullshit.

I bring this up every time there's one of these stories because there are countries along the west coast of Africa that have the laws and are making every effort to enforce them that simply don't have the manpower and stability to keep things under control, It's not a problem that China traditionally seems to have.

Re:7lbs? - answer (5, Insightful)

doug141 (863552) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407333)

Most of that 7 lbs of lead is in the glass (as an x-ray shield). The summary is wrong to imply that this lead can be recovered by heating, just like circuit board lead.

Re:7lbs? - answer (1)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407973)

It can be recovered by what amounts to pressure washing, I don't see why they couldn't get it from heating. My guess is that lead dust from CRTs isn't nearly as valuable as solder from circuit boards which is much easier to reclaim and far more valuable to resell.

7 pounds is complete BS (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407435)

I sort of gagged on the number 350,000 cell phones (130,000) computers a day? But it makes sense. in 2005 a survey found 69% of americans had cell phones. That's about 250 million users. So if mean replacement time is 2 years, that's 342K a day! Computer's last longer aparently to account for the lower discard number.

However the 7 pounds of lead in a 15 pound computer is complete BS. First most CRTs weigh about 30 pounds so this 15 pound number is perverse. If we assume that only referes to the computer itself and not the CRT we can still estimate the amount of lead using numbers from various studies:

  According to this report [ewasteguide.info] 98% of the lead attributed to computers is in the CRT glass. (interesting the report also notes that 75% of CRTs are stored not recycled). However for a 15 pound computer system, only slightly more than half of that is the CRT. And CRT's are not made of 90% lead.
indeed this pdf article determiened that nearly all the lead in a CRT is not in the heavy panel portion but is in fact in the neck and frit seals.

most of the lead however is bound up. the leachable lead is still considerable however.

The actual [eiae.org] amount of lead in a 27 pound CRT (19% screen) is 2.2 or less than 10%. If CRT's have 90% of the lead in a computer system then a computer is about 1% of it's weight in lead. so a 15 pound computer ought ot have about 0.15 pounds of lead not 7 pounds.

the article is BS.

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (0)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407523)

I sort of gagged on the number 350,000 cell phones (130,000) computers a day? But it makes sense. in 2005 a survey found 69% of americans had cell phones. That's about 250 million users. So if mean replacement time is 2 years, that's 342K a day! Computer's last longer aparently to account for the lower discard number.

Note: a longer life time does not lead to lower throw-away rates, it's just a matter of postponing the flood; the same usage leads to the same throw-away rate no matter the life time of the device. What it does indicate, however, is higher reusability of computers compared to phones (or perhaps it's just easier to mindlessly toss such small devices?).

err... no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407555)

Note: a longer life time does not lead to lower throw-away rates, it's just a matter of postponing the flood; the same usage leads to the same throw-away rate no matter the life time of the device.

Sorry but that is illogical. Why don't you think about it some more. Here's the factor you are not getting right: most people don't get a new computer till the old one is decomissioned (and shortly thereafter thrown out).

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407807)

Uh, yes it does. If 250 million people never replace their cell phone, then the throw away rate is exactly 0 per day. Conversely, if 250 million people replace their cell phone every day, then the throw away rate is 250 million per day. So depending upon what the actual mean replacement time is, the actual number thrown out per day has to lie on a curve somewhere between those two extremes.

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (1)

m509272 (1286764) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407527)

I don't know where those cell phone numbers come from either. Taking that percentage can't exactly be accurate. Certainly most 8 year olds and younger do not have a phone and probably many over 65-70+ do not have a phone. Between myself, my wife and my parents we have had a total of about 12 phones in the last 12 years. We still have all of them except for one that I lost. While the number is probably high I seriously doubt it's anywhere near 350,000. There's probably no accounting for passing these phones on to others like I did nor is there any accounting for resale on eBay, etc. Same probably holds true for computers. Probably no accounting for resale, donations, passing on to others.

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (1)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#26408009)

It's true that many people don't have phones, but there are also people like me who at any given time have 2-3 cellphones between personal need and work, and also the fabulously extravagant who are more than happy to throw away their cell phone ever time the latest Gold plated Razr or 3G iPhone comes out. You and I may only replace phones when they're broken, and may try to find a use for the old ones, but we're not representative of the majority of American who are happy to sign a new contract or drop $300 for the latest and greatest before throwing their old model in a dumpster.

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407643)

For completeness, did the number (350,000) of cell phones initially appear to you to be too small or too large?

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (4, Insightful)

FauxPasIII (75900) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407679)

> However the 7 pounds of lead in a 15 pound computer is complete BS. First
> most CRTs weigh about 30 pounds so this 15 pound number is perverse.

15" means it's a 15 inch monitor, not 15 pounds.

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (2, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407883)

yes but my point is still valid. A 15" monitor weighs about 20 pounds and has a 1.7 pounds of lead. not 7 pounds. Most of the lead is neck and frit and can be recovered. The rest is bound in a glass matrix (it can still leach but is a good start on containing it).

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (2, Funny)

The J Kid (266953) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407759)

I am so sorry. Never knew e-waste was such a problem.

I'll never throw out a pdf again!

Re:7 pounds is complete BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407847)

It's fine if you put it in the recycle bin but PLEASE DONT put it in the trash can!! Windows is far more environmentally friendly in this respect.

Just leave it laying around (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407295)

and it will be recycled by niggers.

Re:Just leave it laying around (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407329)

Don't you have to put a "For sale: $100" sign next to it?

If you do that, someone will recycle it and probably won't even be black.

tag it: windows 7 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407299)

Soon we'll be seeing some lovely "designed for windoze 7" stickers on the new hardware.

Re:tag it: windows 7 (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407317)

Along with more than a few penguins. And the occaisional little red devil.

Re:tag it: windows 7 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407579)

The point was windoze 7 creates LOADS of this ewaste because you need new hardware to run the bloated monster. GNU/Linux and BSD systems run well on "legacy" hardware and don't produce it.

It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (5, Funny)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407301)

What's wrong with you people?

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (5, Funny)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407325)

What's wrong with you people?

I suppose its better the iWaste

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (4, Insightful)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407353)

Not exactly, there is a difference between throwing away organic waste and electronic waste. The organic waste will at least decompose at some point, whereas the e-waste has to go through quite a bit of processing in order to be recycled. It is also difference from other non-organic waste such as scrap metal and plastic. At least that can be recycled relatively easy (as compared to e-waste). The "e" is appropriate, if somewhat over-used.

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

Kindaian (577374) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407383)

The bigger diference isn't the degradation rate...

Because everything will eventualy will be recycled naturally...

The issue is the toxicity of the materials will waiting for the "natural" recycling. ;)

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

memnock (466995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407393)

styrofoam supposedly doesn't break down, but it doesn't play any video games for me. which is it?

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407429)

Maybe you're being facetious but obviously it is non-organic waste. E-waste is waste from electronic devices and technology. I'm sure you could find it on your own but here is the wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] .

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

TheGavster (774657) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407517)

I think the poster is actually trying to demonstrate that "electronic" is an illogical catagorization of waste. How is the original purpose of the material relevant? I think that the timeline in which the waste breaks down and its toxicity are far more relevant than whether the waste was originally part of a device that performed a logic function with electricity. Classifying it as "technology" is even less sensical; a discarded ax handle is "technology", it just isn't shiny and lacks blue LEDs.

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#26408031)

It's perfectly logical, it categorizes a large section of disposable waste both by source and by expected hazards. Electronics waste is specially legislated and defined by the EPA to better handle the specifics that are pretty common almost anything you'd be working with, such as circuit boards, batteries, and a whole lot of heavy metals.

Is it any crazier than referring to medical waste?

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407437)

whereas the e-waste has to go through quite a bit of processing

Still, it contains higher concentrations of metals than many ores that can be profitably processed. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to treat it as raw ore material and just dump it in an ore smelter at a couple of thousand degrees. I guess it might contain problematic compounds that would complicate extraction, but compared to other ores it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem.

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407667)

whereas the e-waste has to go through quite a bit of processing

Still, it contains higher concentrations of metals than many ores that can be profitably processed. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to treat it as raw ore material and just dump it in an ore smelter at a couple of thousand degrees. I guess it might contain problematic compounds that would complicate extraction, but compared to other ores it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem.

I expect that throwing it into a smelter might result in some unwanted alloying of metals. Mechanical separation of the various metals may make more sense. I know that the gold plating on connectors is very often removed via chemical means as this can be done profitably due to the high value of gold.

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (1)

Neoprofin (871029) | more than 5 years ago | (#26408049)

There are plenty of operations that more or less shred the materials and then seperate them using a variety of systems such as eddy currents to split out various useful thing. Throwing it direct in the smelter is a no go though, there's far too many batteries, glass, plastics, and any number of other things that are not only hazardous to burn in an uncontrolled setting (or one not specifically controlled) and that make extraction of useful materials afterwards less than cost effective.

Re:It is just WASTE. Fuck the E! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407983)

If it was just waste and not E-waste, they would be just like every other hippy trying to save the world one stoner at a time. Calling it E-waste means you can get people's attention (because the E makes it interesting) and make them care in between bong hits plus show that your more hip then those dirty hippies.

now it all makes sense. (5, Funny)

sheehaje (240093) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407303)

This lead is then formed into figurines, painted, and sold as toys.

And I care why? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407305)

I'm sorry but honestly why do I care what happens to this village in China? They aren't innocent victums, they willingly bring the toxic crap in and have their citizens work on it. As soon as they want to they can stop taking shipments when they feel the health risks are too great... Until they do that, why should I feel bad for problems they have brought on themselves?

Re:And I care why? (1)

Skinkie (815924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407495)

Exactly I highly doubt the mess they have there is brought in from the USA! Or someone is actually buying tons of crap and dumping it there.

Re:And I care why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407497)

Because it is wrong to send our problems to people who are not equipped to handle them. I could take the box of batteries I have been saving to recycle, walk outside and dump them in the bushes and nothing would ever happen to me as a result, but I don't do that because it would be wrong. Instead, I'll spend a few bucks on gas to drive them to a place where they can be more safely disposed of, so that my desire for the modern convenience of portable electricity doesn't end up in someone else's groundwater.

Re:And I care why? (5, Insightful)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407533)

I'm sorry but honestly why do I care what happens to this village in China? They aren't innocent victums, they willingly bring the toxic crap in and have their citizens work on it. As soon as they want to they can stop taking shipments when they feel the health risks are too great... Until they do that, why should I feel bad for problems they have brought on themselves?

You can't be serious? Do you really think the people working with this toxic waste know the dangers? I'm sure their government does but China isn't exactly a free society.

Re:And I care why? (4, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407583)

It's not that they don't know the dangers, it's that they have no choice. They have to make money to eat and this is how they do it. I've spoken with many people that visited china and inspected factories and plants and they have zero safety regulations because that's how they make things so cheap. Everything is also done by hand, there is no automation there, hence you have people doing very unsafe things. Just the way it is.

Re:And I care why? (1, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407783)

This village has traditionally been an agrarian society. Therefore these citizens DO have a choice; they have the choice to stick with a traditional farming lifestyle.

They choose to take-apart lead-filled CCAs and CRTs because they have made a *voluntary* decision to abandon their farming culture and become factory workers. I believe in Pro-choice and their right to make that choice.

Re:And I care why? (4, Insightful)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407951)

I'm sorry but honestly why do I care what happens to this village in China? They aren't innocent victums, they willingly bring the toxic crap in and have their citizens work on it. As soon as they want to they can stop taking shipments when they feel the health risks are too great... Until they do that, why should I feel bad for problems they have brought on themselves?

You can't be serious? Do you really think the people working with this toxic waste know the dangers? I'm sure their government does but China isn't exactly a free society.

More to the point, you are responsible for throwing the stuff away in the first place. So pretending they brought the problems on themselves is pathetic evasion. You're just defending your right to pollute. Somebody still has to clean up after you.
Broken window fallacy much ?

Re:And I care why? (1)

linhares (1241614) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407595)

I'm sorry but honestly why do I care what happens to this village in China? They aren't innocent victums, they willingly bring the toxic crap in and have their citizens work on it. As soon as they want to they can stop taking shipments when they feel the health risks are too great... Until they do that, why should I feel bad for problems they have brought on themselves?

I'm sorry but honestly why do I care what happens to some village in Afghanistan? They aren't innocent victims, they willingly beat their women and their citizens. As soon as they want to they can start developing infrastructure and educating themselves when they feel that our wealth/power disparity is too great... Until they do that, why should I feel bad for problems they have brought on themselves?

It's not like they could get mad at you or anything; and even if they did, it's not like they could do anything to hurt you [youtube.com] anyway.

Re:And I care why? (2, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407743)

Most of those cultures prefer to be left-alone. They don't want us interfering with how they live, anymore than we would want a bunch of Bible-thumpers forcing us to go to Church every Sunday. Although I disagree with Afghanistan culture (and Arab culture in general), I don't think I should be telling other people how to live. I am not a Bible-thumper.

Re:And I care why? (1)

Darundal (891860) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407893)

You failed to detect the sarcasm in the post.

Re:And I care why? (1)

linhares (1241614) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407995)

I think you should take at look at this other discussion [slashdot.org] first.

You should see my basement (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407309)

TV's, old computers, harddrives, broken VCR's... I don't know what to do with the stuff.

If you think one of these so called certified e-cyclers is not simply shipping the stuff of to China, think again. Every report I have seen on these outfits has traced the donated stuff overseas.

Re:You should see my basement (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407337)

Throw it in the trash if you're worried about it ending up overseas. Keep it American!

Conscientious AC (1)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407539)

I know you're an AC and may be just trolling, but that is actually rather conscientious. It's still polluting, but at least in your own back yard.

Re:You should see my basement (1)

larien (5608) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407421)

To be fair, how many reports saying "this organisation is doing what it says" would get published? People aren't interested in people doing what they say, they're interested in scandals of corporate irresponsibility.

Re:You should see my basement (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407549)

There is a local company around me that offers e-cycling and they guarantee that it is not shipped overseas to be processed. They claim everything is reprocessed in the US and then sent overseas to be used in new electronic manufacturing. I guess I'll have to look into it more to see how truthful these claims are.

Out of date info (5, Interesting)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407347)

China hasn't been accepting E-Waste for at least 18 months. Now it goes mostly to West Africa.

Re:Out of date info (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407721)

China hasn't been accepting E-Waste for at least 18 months. Now it goes mostly to West Africa.

It is inconceivable that Chinese businessmen would think of smuggling it into the country, that they could make a profit doing so, or that they could bribe corrupt customs officials to make it happen.

Charities (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407363)

Hi,

I am a voluntary sys admin for a mental health charity, Contact, http://www.contactmorpeth.org.uk/

We take in local donations of unwanted PCs, refurbish them and give them away to people with mental health problems, their children or their carers. Some people have told me that their free PC was a life changing event (once they'd got broadband working).

Surely in America you'd be able to start up a similar scheme for charitable donations?

HTH,

Ian

Re:Charities (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407489)


I work for the Federal Government in Canada.

We have a program called Computers for Schools which used to take pretty much anything. The kids would learn to repair machines, solder parts if needed, and make working computers.

Or at least that's how it was several years ago.

Today Computers for Schools wants itemized lists of what you have, everything must work, and no old stuff need apply. In effect, they don't want kids to learn about the innards of machines, they want kids to just learn how to be data entry clerks.

We don't even bother with them now.

Re:Charities (3, Informative)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407737)

Surely in America you'd be able to start up a similar scheme for charitable donations?

Yep [freegeek.org] - we do.

/P

Re:Charities (2)

awshidahak (1282256) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407751)

yes we could, but remember, this is america youre talking about. we have cell phone recycling programs where you can make a dollar or two from donating your old phone, and we have thrift stores to donate your old computer to, (not to mention churches and charities) all of which are easily contactable. but people will still just throw their stuff in the garbage to save thirty seconds of their time (even tho "being green" is in right now many people still throw away a ridiculous amount of garbage.)

Re:Charities (2, Insightful)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407867)

I worked at a computer store a few years back. We had 5 complete, working PCs they wanted to donate to a local thrift-store/charity. We had to jump through hoops to donate them. We never tried again because it was just too much hassle.

Don't assume that your area is the same as all others.

Re:Charities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407815)

An alternative for people that live near Vancouver, BC is freegeek [freegeek.org] . Freegeek takes all computer donations and reuse the parts to provide free computers and education for those in need.

Some so-called e-waste companies export to China (1)

forrie (695122) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407365)

Did anyone catch the recent 60 Minutes story on this. The gist of it was that even some of the most respected e-waste companies end up exporting to China, despite their promises to do otherwise. You can watch the story HERE [cbsnews.com] .

Numbers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407373)

Can those possibly be right? That's 127,000,000 cell phones a year and 50,000,000 computers. That's a cell phone for nearly every other person, and a computer for ever six people a year.

Re:Numbers? (2, Insightful)

volsung (378) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407425)

A quick Google puts the number of US cell phone users in 2005 at 208 million. A number of cell providers will give you a "free" phone every two years, and many people take advantage of that. I'd guess the cell phone number is plausible if you assume slightly less than 50% turn over rate per year and include growth in the cell phone market since the 2005 numbers were published.

What about appliances? (3, Interesting)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407613)

Still, I'll note that they go on about this being the 'fastest growing part of the US waste stream'. First, I imagine that it's the fastest growing part of the WORLD's waste stream. Ever considered how many cellphones China has? While yes, 350k cell phones might be tossed every day, and this seems a lot, it's scare tactics. First, the growth is unsustainable. Much longer and you'd have to assume either everybody starts carrying multiple phones or starts disposing of them faster. Not incredibly likely. After all, cellphones are starting to reach the point where they already do everything people want, so they won't necessarily trade out every couple years, plus they've improved battery technology substantially - I'd imagine that a large number of replacement cell phones were because the battery wasn't lasting very long anymore.

Second, consider appliances. How many cell phones does it take to equal a fridge? Figure a fridge lasts 20 years. That means with a 2 year lifespan for cellphones, you'd only toss 10 cellphones per fridge. Maybe 20 if you figure on being a 2 phone family. The fridge is still a LOT more material.

Still, doesn't mean we can't do more by making chargers more universal, remembering that the batteries are replaceable, and get the cell phone companies to stop locking their phones up so tight that poorer people can get a donated phone, maybe spend $20 on a new battery and add a prepaid plan chip. After all, reuse beats recycling in the chart I was taught - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Charity cell phone recycling scam (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407387)

Cell providers try to get used phones off the market by setting up charity drop boxes for women's shelters with the idea being that the phones actually go to the shelters. In actual fact the phones get dumped overseas, and the charity receives a pittance for use of their name on the side of the box. Cell providers benefit because this forces people to but new phones which are tied to contracts.

There are legit phones for shelters programs, but if it says something like "only put the phone in the box, not the charger" then the phones will just end up overseas, not reused.

Underlines (1)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407391)

a simple fact that no technology comes without some cost associated. The goodies of Freon were soon frowned upon looking at effect of it on Ozone layers OR nuclear technology when it became clear that nuclear waste disposal could pose much bigger problem than it solves.

While appreciating all the technology breakthrough, I am just trying to justify my reasons to leave the urban world and live happily country side...enjoying everyday with farmers...appreciating beauty of nature. It sucks many ways, no doubt. But this kind of news just makes me feel better.

Back on topic, I guess a good drive of awareness about safety and other precautions should solve the problem of Guiyu. Some the reprocessing processes could be reviewed to reduce the exposure of toxic chemicals to other civilians.

So why is this the wests fault? (4, Insightful)

LingNoi (1066278) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407395)

If they're generating millions from e-waste we throw away then why is it the wests fault that they are polluting themselves?

If they dealt with the waste in a responsible manner and took even basic precautions then they wouldn't be polluting their own villages.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (2, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407469)

If they're generating millions from e-waste we throw away then why is it the wests fault that they are polluting themselves?

If they dealt with the waste in a responsible manner and took even basic precautions then they wouldn't be polluting their own villages.

Because, rather than deal with it responsibly ourselves, we've outsourced the problem to people apparently incapable or unwilling to deal with it responsibly. Recycling that involves toxic substances is a job that probably no one wants to do if they understand the personal risks involved, but someone has to do it so it falls to the ignorant and desperate.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (1, Insightful)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407813)

Because, rather than deal with it responsibly ourselves, we've outsourced the problem to people apparently incapable or unwilling to deal with it responsibly.

It's not like we're forcing them to take it with the might of our military (not that we could). They want it. There's a transaction where we give them money and they take care of the trash. Once we give them the money, our responsibility is complete and it's their responsibility to deal with the trash.

If they decide this deal isn't in their best interests, they can simply stop being in this business (which would force us to deal with it responsibly or find someone else willing to be in the business). Or they can raise the price to an amount that would make dealing with it responsibly profitable (which might force us to deal with it ourselves if the cost is higher than what it would be for us to take care of it). Either way, it's entirely their responsibility.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (4, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407885)

Right, they want it. They want a job so they can make money so they won't starve.

Do they understand the risks and threats associated with that job? Based on how they perform the job, it would seem that they do not have a full understanding of what they have agreed to do.

For someone who does have such an understanding, what exactly would you say are our obligations? Apparently, you would appear to be taking the position that our only obligation is to give them money for doing the job, and that's it. I don't think that's sufficient. If we're paying someone to clean up our messes, we need to make sure that they can do the job properly, and that we provide them with information for how to protect their health and safety, and preserve their environment. Otherwise, we're not solving the problem, we're simply passing the buck.

"They want us to" is a total cop-out. Responsibility for dealing with toxic substances is not all in one court or the other, it is shared. If we do not recognize our obligations and hold ourselves accountable to meet them, then surely we will fail, and needless suffering and damage will be the result.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407933)

They're making millions from it. If you wanted to be well protected then they would.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 5 years ago | (#26408013)

Right, they want it. They want a job so they can make money so they won't starve.

I'm not talking about the people recovering the stuff. I'm talking about the company that dumped it there. The company that is probably paying those people to recover metals from the trash.

Do they understand the risks and threats associated with that job? Based on how they perform the job, it would seem that they do not have a full understanding of what they have agreed to do.

Whether they have an understanding or not wouldn't matter if they can't find other jobs. But the point is, would a company in the west be able to dump the trash somewhere and then pay its citizens to do it? There are regulations that prevent them from doing so, there are government agencies that ensure that the work environment is safe, etc. If China doesn't have those, it is not our fault. It is not our responsibility to ensure that other governments treat their citizens as we would like to be treated.

You might say, Âwe can not do business with any country that treats its citizens like that." It worked well for Cuba when the U.S. went that route because we don't approve of dictatorships, right? It worked well for Iraq with the whole oil for food stuff, huh? The only other option to effect a change would be to force the change militarily. Iraq is again a good example of how that doesn't work. Imagine trying it with China.

Re:So why is this the wests fault? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26408047)

It is exactly the same as with any arguments concerning child labor. There are desperate people who need to do something they really shouldn't be forced to or else they will starve to death. Strictly speaking the alternative of them doing something that is bad for them is better than not doing even that and starving to death.

I won't get too deep into the argument. Anyone can read any arguments about child labor and get the exactly same points that apply here.

In the end it however gets to asking if there should be any laws at all for protecting workers (which, of course, always have the option to choose not to work). The society has ended to commonly accept that it is better for both working and fair society if the society forces itself to find other options than present people the "Starve or do something which destroys your and your childrens' health".

Legally we might not need to apply that to other countries than our own. Ethically, many (me included) seem to think that we should

Baby steps. (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407403)

How much of that $75 Million could be plowed back into making the whole process safer?

Willingness? (2, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407413)

Guiyu's willingness to deal with lead, mercury and other toxic materials...

There's the problem. Don't do that.

Re:Willingness? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407471)

The problem is that the pollution won't stay in the local area. The items might be shipped there because western companies aren't willing to spend the money to deal with the waste safely so they ship it out to somewhere cheap. Unfortunately eventually all that poison is going to make its way into the eco-system in general. Whatever happens there will eventually happen everywhere (albeit at a lower rate/intensity)

It is very short term thinking both from an environmental level AND a profit level, they are exporting money not just waste.

Serves them right... (0, Flamebait)

larien (5608) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407453)

They probably made a lot of the electronic goods that are sold in America, makes sense for 'em to go back to where they started.

(before this gets tagged as flamebait, this was meant as a joke...)

Re:Serves them right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407467)

Any sufficiently unfunny joke, is indistinguishable from flamebait.

Flamebait? (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407545)

I wouldn't consider this flamebait.

I mean, it doesn't really matter what you're recycling, doesn't it make sense to reduce shipping and recycle the stuff where it can go a short distance to a facility to be turned into a user product again? IE recycle paper near paper mills/printers?

Same deal with our electronics.

Deposits and core fees. (5, Insightful)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407479)

We can't get but a handful of states in the US to put deposits on bottles, much less give people incentives to actually recycle their electronics. Put a damn $50 deposit/tax on new computer sales, and THEN maybe you'll have people recycling. Hell, we have core fees on automotive parts, why not electronics?

Laws and fines rarely push people to do this type of thing, and forget the "think of the children" ads. People get off their ass and do something when it benefits them directly, and nothing speaks louder than cash in hand.

Re:Deposits and core fees. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407697)

Such a deposit/tax would simply go to the state's general fund, as it does now with cans and bottles.

Re:Deposits and core fees. (1)

bad_alloc (1441453) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407805)

Put a 50$ tax on 100$ Notebooks? That'll doom Projects like OLPC and Netbooks. And btw where does a computer start? The grey box under your desk for 500$ or the MP3 player for 30$? Since low-end computers and consumer electronics are dirt cheap a huge tax would kill the market. A tax based on the price of the product (lets say 5%) would go almost unnoticed.

Better than recycling (3, Insightful)

KlaymenDK (713149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407487)

TIME suggests checking out recycling brokers and accredited e-stewards the next time you're ready to toss a gizmo.

Even better: unless it really is broken beyond repair, re-use your old stuff or give it to someone who still can get use out of it. Freecycle what you can, recycle the rest, and throw away as little as possible.

PS! Read my tagline! ;-)

I "dispose" of my stuff on Ebay. (Recycle) (3, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407501)

There are a lot of people who actually want this stuff, and they are willing to pay the cost of shipping/handling to get it. I've asked a few of them: Why do you want an old gadget?

(1) "I need a PC that I can experiment upon."

(2) "I am a collector of old electronics."

(3) "My camcorder broke and I need a new magnetic head to fix it."

(4) "I need a cheap laptop for typing notes."

And on and on and on. Like the old saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure. Rather than toss your old gadgets in the junk, sell it on ebay for 99 cents + shipping. Somebody will buy it. Recyle.

Re:I "dispose" of my stuff on Ebay. (Recycle) (3, Interesting)

LVSlushdat (854194) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407825)

I used to do that too, but now eBay in their infinite greed, is forcing everybody to take PayPal.. Which means the fact that you put "AS-IS" in your auction description, and the fact that there are NO returns, is ignored by PayPal, who cheerfully refunds the buyers money, and usually you are out your item AND your $$$. When I sold "as-is" electronics, I described the item extensively, took lots of pix, and took checks/mo's only... Worked fine, from 1998 to now... Now with the inmates running the asylum at eBay, I'm steering clear of it until/if the eBay Board of Directors finally say "enough" and can JD..

Poisoned or Starved? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407529)

So your solution to the people in this village poisoning themselves is to take away their income so they starve. ???

Because, you know, meddling westerners are doing such a grand job "helping" the poor tribes in Africa.

60 minutes (4, Informative)

mattwarden (699984) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407537)

> TIME suggests checking out recycling brokers and accredited e-stewards the
> next time you're ready to toss a gizmo.

I guess TIME doesn't watch 60 minutes [cbsnews.com] .

'"This is a photograph from your yard, the Executive Recycling yard," Pelley told Richter, showing him a photo we'd taken of a shipping container in his yard. "We followed this container to Hong Kong."'

350,000 cell phones a day? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407561)

350,000 a day? or 127,750,000 per year... as of July 2008 there are 303,824,640 people (adults and children). So these guys believe that if every person in the US has a phone, 1/3 of them toss it out every year?

Maybe someone ought to be doing something to reduce the number of phones we "retire" every year. Since most cell phone contracts in the US are 2 years, and the phone is "free" with a 2year contract, one might be able to assume that most of the US retires their phone every two years.... I know many people that, when the battery life starts to decline, find it cheaper and easier to get a new phone than to get a new battery. They just call up their cell phone provider and get a new 2yr contract extension and *voila* get a new phone.

Re:350,000 cell phones a day? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407749)

Your numbers look correct. 2/3 of the people get a new phone every 2 years. The remaining 1/3 (and the people who don't have a phone) can be explained by people having an extra phone for work, that often gets replaced even sooner.

Self-fixing problem (2, Funny)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407575)

Soon the dollar won't buy anything, let alone electronics. I wouldn't worry about it.

Blame for everyone? (2, Interesting)

z3dm4n (843603) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407635)

Oddly enough, I did a research paper on this subject my last semester. The problem with e-waste being exported is mainly that there is no real guidelines for exporting electronic waste. Most of the material is considered hazardous because of the metals and BFR's used in manufacturing.

There are companies who say they recycle the products and then just ship the junk over-seas. It's an "Out of sight, out of mind" type of thinking that is impacting other places around the world. Not only that, but most consumers have no idea of what to do with their old electronics. They (clearly an assumption here) probably know the materials need to be recycled but have no idea of how to achieve such a thing. So it ends up sitting in the closet, or storage, or gets thrown into the municipal waste. Of course take back programs are becoming increasingly more common and are now required (I believe).

As for getting the stuff recycled, when someone tries to recycle their old product, they often get charged a recycling fee, such as at Circuit City or Staples. Dumping is 'free' while recycling costs money. Of course none of these things are going to be fixed over night. Just how can this be solved?

Companies should bear the cost (5, Interesting)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407673)

I've always said, companies should be responsible for the entire lifecycle of any product they produce, including its safe disposal. The way things are now, they are allowed to just dump that cost onto the public, and everyone has to pay the price of mass-consumption, which is mass-disposal.

If your company's monitor costs $30 to dispose of properly, that cost should be your company's responsibility. Of course, the company will just pass the cost on to the customer, but that's OK, since it's the customer who's wallet is hit, not the general public. Products that are toxic and cause cancer if they seep into the groundwater SHOULD cost people much, much more, to disincentivise companies from making them in the first place. Maybe higher prices for toxic difficult-to-dispose goods would get people to repair things instead of just tossing them into the bin. At least the extra cost would get them to consider that whatever they are buying is expensive to toss into the Earth.

As it is now, people just buy the cheapest product they can find without regard for the damage it does to the environment, because that damage is done to "those other people somewhere". Make that damage hit their wallet, and you'll see change.

so when they are all dead..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407755)

so when they are all dead..... we can ...attack the next chineese village with poisons ...ye syes we will pay them wiht worthless american money that they all end up lending back to the usa.....and at same time take out village after village. /me grins evilly

How about an artificial reef? (2, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26407767)

Let's just pick an appropriate spot in the worlds oceans, and build one of these with the E-Waste: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_reef [wikipedia.org]

Divers would love to see baby Moray eels popping out of the slot in old VCRs.

I wouldn't worry about the hazardous material being toxic. Many of the oceans' species are millions of years old, they know how to deal with toxic waste.

Probably.

second use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26407969)

In the Seattle area, you can give your 600mhz or better PC to Interconnections, they will refurbish it and send it somewhere to be used.

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