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Inside the Fake PC Recycling Market

samzenpus posted about 4 years ago | from the put-that-anywhere dept.

Earth 320

snydeq writes "OSNews' Howard Fosdick reports on the fake recycling market — one in which companies exploit cheap shipping, inexpensive labor, and a lack of safety and environmental law to export computers and other e-waste to China and Africa where it is 'recycled' with a complete lack of environmental and safety rules. 'This trade has become a thriving business. Companies called "fake recyclers" approach well-meaning organizations — charities, churches, and community organizations — and offer to hold a Recycling Day. The charity provides publicity, legitimacy, and a parking lot for the event. On the designated day, well-meaning residents drop off their old electronics for recycling. The fake recycler picks it up in their trucks, hauls it away for shipping, and makes money by exporting it to Chinese or African "recycling" centers. Nobody's the wiser,' Fosdick writes. Of course, the international community has, in fact, devised a set of rules to control e-waste disposal under the Basel Conventions, but the US — 'the international 'bad boy' of computer recycling — is one of four countries that have not ratified and do not adhere to these international agreements."

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Meh (4, Funny)

sznupi (719324) | about 4 years ago | (#32833324)

Market will sort it out.

Re:Meh (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833362)

Market will sort it out.

umm... not when there is a price distortion due to a negative externality coupled with information asymmetry.

Re:Meh (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 years ago | (#32833410)

Shhh. Those are just a commie conspiracy to discredit the Free Market. Any failure by the real world to precisely replicate the predictions of an Econ 101 student with a B or better average is caused by government meddling and could be solved by cutting taxes.

Re:Meh (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834176)

Well, government meddling won't stop fraudulent transactions either. The best you can do under any system is prosecute the fraud where it occurs. Which appears to be happening otherwise we wouldn't be seeing this story.

Labelling stuff like this as a failure of the free market implies that this flaw is not shared by some other, better system. Except that other system doesn't exist, not as long as humans are running it anyway.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834324)

Econ 101 is an implementation of a conspiracy.

Re:Meh (1)

Inner_Child (946194) | about 4 years ago | (#32834094)

Oh now you're just making words up.

Re:Meh (1)

rwa2 (4391) | about 4 years ago | (#32833418)

Sarcasm modded Troll?
I lol'd
sznupi must not be on a roll.

Re:Meh (0, Troll)

w00tsauce (1482311) | about 4 years ago | (#32833520)

lol, everyones like meh, let those gooks and spooks deal with my old pc. But then when they take your job? it's lynching time.

Re:Meh (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 4 years ago | (#32833582)

Not when the government is involved...

When you force people to "recycle" their computer equipment, no longer do people really care where it goes so long as they don't have to pay that tax, because of this it opens up a new market for cheap "recyclers" that people will flock to because they are cheap and convenient.

Re:Meh (4, Insightful)

OldeTimeGeek (725417) | about 4 years ago | (#32834144)

As opposed to what? Before people were "forced" to recycle? When old equipment almost always ended up in a landfill or was dumped into the ocean, as New York [] used to do with all of their trash?

Just like what happened in the USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833612)

We got rich enough from our industrial past to afford to care enough about clean air and water to start dumping it somewhere else. The same will happen in China and Africa.

Re:Just like what happened in the USA (2, Funny)

gary_7vn (1193821) | about 4 years ago | (#32834020)

So Africa is going to start shipping its waste to Detroit? Sounds fair!

Re:Just like what happened in the USA (1)

Kreigaffe (765218) | about 4 years ago | (#32834246)

I.. ok, ok, stop right there. There is no way this comment is not a straight man setup for a racist funny man joke. Just.. just no way. you tried this.

Alternatives? (2, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | about 4 years ago | (#32833824)

I have been seeing stories like these for several years. Although this situation is clearly undesirable, I have still to see anyone proposing a realistic alternative. The bottom line is doing proper recycling costs money, people do not want to pay.

To take something apart and separate the elements used in its construction may cost more than putting it together. Who wants to pay twice the price for anything?

The market pressure is all against any environmentally and safe recycling. The biggest part of most electronic equipment is plastic with very low value as scrap. Fiberglass, for instance, is nearly worthless, what could anyone possibly do with the fiberglass from an old circuit board? This fiberglass is mixed with small but significant amounts of lead, how would you remove the lead before sending the fiberglass to a landfill?

The market isn't working? OK, but would the government work either? Try telling people that their $50 phone will have a $100 tax added for properly recycling it.

Re:Alternatives? (3, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | about 4 years ago | (#32833932)

Fund more biotech? We've already seen bacteria that evolved to feed on nylon. It should be possible to engineer a strain that can eat fiberglass, plastics, rubber, whatever. Depending on what the byproducts are, you might even be able to harness them to make energy.

So, ok, I'm not a geneticist, but this seems like a lucrative line of research. I'd be surprised if there aren't already people looking into it.

Re:Alternatives? (2, Informative)

RsG (809189) | about 4 years ago | (#32834200)

Not sure how well biotech would work for fibreglass. Nylon is hydrocarbon derived, meaning it shares the same basic building blocks as carbon based life, so microorganisms can make use of it. Firbreglass is silicon based. So far as I know, nothing eats that.

Plus, the fibreglass itself is less of a problem than the lead contaminates. If you could weed out those, then you could probably bury the rest safely. So far as I know, bio-remediation of lead is problematic, since it can't be broken down or rendered harmless the way that, for example, petroleum products can.

Re:Alternatives? (1)

c6gunner (950153) | about 4 years ago | (#32834344)

The idea was to break down the fiberglass, which would make it easier to extract the lead. Run the remnants through a centrifuge-type machine or a strainer or whatever, and reuse the lead. However, I didn't realize that fiberglass is silicon based (although it makes sense now that you mention it). You're right, that poses a rather large problem.

Re:Alternatives? (1)

sznupi (719324) | about 4 years ago | (#32834400)

It's silicon based, but binded by organics.

Re:Alternatives? (2, Interesting)

AdamWill (604569) | about 4 years ago | (#32834006)

It works (for a suitably small value of 'works') elsewhere. There's a recycling levy on all consumer electronics where I live (British Columbia). It gets pretty large for big items - complete computers, big TVs, fridges and the like. Several other countries and territories have them now, too. It's technically illegal to put a defined list of electronics in the municipal waste system any more, you take them to retailers who are obliged to accept them for recycling.

It's almost a good system. I say 'almost' because the company that got the contract to do the 'recycling' is one of the big multinational waste disposal companies which, we're fairly sure, just ships it all to China anyway. But hey, nearly made it!

Such a system can certainly work. People will bitch and whine and then just pay the fee anyway because they can't possibly *not* own the latest 89" 3D plasma monstrosity. Rabid consumerism can be made to work both ways, sometimes anyway.

If you want a practical alternative for you personally, most major towns have a Free Geek or similar organization which will take old computers for *genuine* recycling. I believe there's a couple of phone recycling schemes that are on the level too. Not sure beyond that.

Re:Alternatives? (3, Interesting)

cduffy (652) | about 4 years ago | (#32834010)

Doesn't make economic sense? Then don't recycle it... yet. Eventually materials used will become harder to come by (this is already happening quickly for numerous rare earth metals) and recycling e-waste will become economically viable.

Admittedly, this leaves is the (admittedly not at all trivial) question of safe storage in the interim.

Re:Alternatives? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834034)

Can't they just re-brand under the "one-laptop-per-child" banner?

Governkment Meh (0, Troll)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 4 years ago | (#32833858)

Lets just form a congressional sub-committee to look at the problem to eventually raise taxes, legislate new regulations.

We can have Obama put one of his cronies in as "eWaste Czar", and make some sort of teleprompter speech about how he's personally saving the world.

I'd say put the EPA in charge, but I'm sure some other agencies [] will get its panties in a wad and want to get a piece of the action.

Because that is the real solution isn't it?

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833896)

I fake recycled something once. Now I have to live with that.

Re:Meh (1)

keeboo (724305) | about 4 years ago | (#32834236)

snoopy, you overoptimistic dog!

No surprise... (4, Insightful)

Mashiki (184564) | about 4 years ago | (#32833332)

Of course here in my home province, they recently added a ECE tax which is supposed to before recycling home electronics and such. Which means that the money goes right into the coffers. Of course I can never find anywhere to drop off my electronics, except at the same places which already did it.

Re:No surprise... (3, Insightful)

countSudoku() (1047544) | about 4 years ago | (#32833550)

No surprise, the problem is that our country is (over)run by corporations, NOT the citizens, lest we put a stop to this ignorant and greedy behavior. Anything to grease the skids of our corporate assholes, so we don't get it the way of their monopolies and profit making schemes! Fuck the rest of us who don't "get" the bribes, er, lobbyist "gifts for influence." If you disagree, you are probably not a real American anyway, so fuck you too. America is for the people, not asshole corporations. Eventually this will be dismantled, or implode on itself, like the housing and financial markets just did. The problem is STILL HERE and it has nothing to do with repubs or dems. They both suck. It has to do with the clever manipulation of our government away from the proposed design by forces unseen by our Constitution drafting forefathers. It's broken. Please fix.

Re:No surprise... (2, Insightful)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 4 years ago | (#32833590)

Do what I do and throw in in a ditch or lake. You've already paid for someone to fish it out and dipose of it properly.

60 Minutes did this story in 2008 - pointer (5, Informative)

clem.dickey (102292) | about 4 years ago | (#32833358)

Pointer to an old 60 Minutes story [] on just this. The U.S. recycler in question was shocked that his dumpster-full of CRTs ended up in China.

Re:60 Minutes did this story in 2008 - pointer (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 years ago | (#32833420)

Was he also shocked! shocked! that gambling was occuring in his establishment?

...and of course (4, Funny)

Estanislao Martnez (203477) | about 4 years ago | (#32833890)

Lawrence Summers, back when he was chief economist for the World Bank, wrote and infamous memo [] where he said he'd "always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City" (verbatim).

As his comments about gender and intelligence as President of Harvard demonstrate, the guy has a talent for sticking his foot in his mouth.

Re:60 Minutes did this story in 2008 - pointer (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834162)

I still don't get why we aren't mineral farming from all these dead electronics we're sending to the dumpster.

How much energy does it take to ship them over seas? How much energy does it take to strip apart electronics?

It's a net loss w/ shipping them since it's still gonna take the same amount of energy to strip them apart whereever they end up.

Of course we haven't ratified... (1, Troll)

Radical Moderate (563286) | about 4 years ago | (#32833364)

that socialist treaty! If the free market has decide to let black and brown children wallow in our toxic waste for pennies a day, who are we to argue? All hail the invisible hand!

Re:Of course we haven't ratified... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 years ago | (#32833438)

Please, sir, cease your slander. The invisible hand is colour blind. It would be just as happy for white and asian children to wallow in toxic waste, assuming it is profitable enough. Only a racist, and one with insufficient trust in the market, would apply affirmative action policies to the booming "informal disposal" market...

For the record (5, Interesting)

TwiztidK (1723954) | about 4 years ago | (#32833400)

I held a computer and electronics recycling day in my town. We were able to collect over 50 used computers and many other things. Several of them were refurbished and given to people who could use them, but the majority had to be recycled. We didn't ship them to China or Africa either. I'm sure that there will always be people out there trying to game the system to make a quick buck, but there are a lot of people who are just trying to help out (by reducing "ewaste" in my case).

Re:For the record (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833480)

youre a saint. fap fap fap fap.

Re:For the record (3, Insightful)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about 4 years ago | (#32833624)

If the junk didn't go to China or Africa, where did it go? How can you be sure that whoever you sent the junk to didn't just shove it in a container bound for China or Africa?

Re:For the record (5, Informative)

TwiztidK (1723954) | about 4 years ago | (#32833782)

It went about 5 miles down the road where me and several volunteers helped disassemble, sort, package, and ship the components to somewhat local refineries to complete the recycling process. None of it even left the tri-state area during the whole process.

Re:For the record (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834190)

Lucky for you you live in a state with such refinery facilities around. Not everyone does!

Re:For the record (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833764)

where did you ship them to ?

Yay! (1)

Airdorn (1094879) | about 4 years ago | (#32833450)

I am for this product and/or service.

Perhaps This Is The Best Option For These People (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833458)

A lot of you won't want to hear this, but most likely the foreign labor that's scavenging these parts is doing so because this is their best option. If you fight against allowing these people access to these discarded resources you might be hurting them economically. Not every country is as wealthy as ours and certainly most of the developing world would be very willing to take increased risks in order to obtain increased prosperity.

Unfortunately, many first world western "do gooders" will destroy the opportunity for 3rd world people to make a living and lift themselves out of poverty.

Sure, these people might have no protection against toxins...but the alternative choice might be starvation or prostitution or even more horrible jobs like stone crushing. (yes, that is a job)

Every nation with modern wealth had to undergo a dirty period of industrialization where some generations lifted themselves out of poverty at health costs...but this is better than being in poverty with other ongoing health costs of POVERTY.

Let people scavenge for resources if that's their best option. They'll make wealth and choose a better life for their kids. Note that when 3rd worlders start making more than 10K USD per person in Per-Capita income they start DEMANDING cleaner environments and standards.

But they have to start somewhere.

Re:Perhaps This Is The Best Option For These Peopl (2, Insightful)

magarity (164372) | about 4 years ago | (#32834056)

they start DEMANDING cleaner environments and standards
Here's the tricky part: both the environmental and workplace conditions in the photographs of the Chinese sitesare all already against the law in China because Chinese people have demanded that this kind of thing not be allowed. What is not pictured is the recycling center owners in their Benzes and the local party bosses in their Audis (bought with bribes from the owners). Enforcing the demands for better conditions will require not different market choices or even new elections but a complete political revolution. The situation is too far out of control for normal market forces to correct when the government utterly fails to enforce laws or contracts.

Money (5, Insightful)

lymond01 (314120) | about 4 years ago | (#32833460)

I was talking with one of my friends who works in the oil business. He was going off how the cleaner energy technologies will never really take off while oil is 3-5 times less expensive. And sadly, I have to agree: efforts are, of course, being made but considering the amount of money that could be put towards green energy (or nuclear fission or fusion), it's very half-hearted. Cheaper is better in our society. And that applies to NIMBY projects too. It took about 20 years for people to really come around to attempting to recycle anything on a regular basis. It surprises me not in the least that people are tossing environmental concerns for cash.

I hope, someday, that we will learn that protecting our natural resources are part of the cost of doing business. Right now we're like a bunch of teenagers wondering how trigonometry is ever going to be useful in our lives. So we're being taught, but we're not really taking it in.

Re:Money (1)

JustinRLynn (831164) | about 4 years ago | (#32833690)

Money of course also prevents "clean" fuels from being clean. Where do you think we get "clean" fuels in the US? Hydrogen comes from methane, and will come from electrolysis powered by coal power plants afterwards. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Electric cars will be charged by coal.

We should not focus on a clean energy carrier until we have a clean energy source. Solar power is nowhere near affordable enough yet, and the environmentalists hate wind (kills birds) and hydroelectric (ruins rivers) and nuclear (OMG NUKE) more than fossil fuels, despite these being actually semi-sustainable clean(er) energy sources.

Re:Money (2, Insightful)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | about 4 years ago | (#32833738)

It took about 20 years for people to really come around to attempting to recycle anything on a regular basis

A lot of that was legislated.

Re:Money (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833866)

I hate the term NIMBY. It's too cheerful and bouncy a word. There's no need to make up cheerful, bouncy acronyms when perfectly cromulent, albeit bile-filled phrases, exist, e.g. muddle-minded moron, incontrovertibly ignorant idiot, hypocrytical stain.

It's people like this, the telephone-sanitisers of this world, who will be the downfall of humanity. Oh yes, we want to decrease our reliance on oil. Nuclear power plant? No! There could be another Chernobyl/Three Mile Island/Sellafield. Wind turbines? No! They would ruin our view and a bird might fly into it, one of the rare ones even! It's the sort of behaviour that makes me side with George Carlin; the only thing people are really concerned about is protecting their environment, so they have a nice place to live. Ugly small-minded little people who reject and oppose change at the cost of progress. NIMBY. HAH! It should be: People Under-Schooled Stall Change And Growth or PUSSCAG

Re:Money (1, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#32833910)

I was talking with one of my friends who works in the oil business. He was going off how the cleaner energy technologies will never really take off while oil is 3-5 times less expensive. And sadly, I have to agree: efforts are, of course, being made but considering the amount of money that could be put towards green energy (or nuclear fission or fusion), it's very half-hearted.

Where's the problem? If oil really is that cheap, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go with "green energy". And I'm unclear why you think insufficient money is being spent on renewable energy research. My take is that it's very ample and we're seeing diminishing returns on investment (for example, more efficient solar cells don't necessarily mean cheaper cost per watt of solar generating capacity).

I hope, someday, that we will learn that protecting our natural resources are part of the cost of doing business.

And how much would it cost to "protect our natural resources"? Suppose I chose to pay that cost rather than stop polluting?

Here's my problem. The environmental movement seems focused on behavioral change, things like, making us recycle things, using less gasoline, etc. It doesn't seem to have a balanced approach to protecting our natural resources and doing all the other things that we want to do in a highly industrialized society. For example, a standard environmental approach to making green energy viable would be to make oil at least 3-5 times more expensive. Not expensive enough to balance the environment cost of the oil, but expensive enough so that you change your behavior, even if that is vastly suboptimal economically.

I really can't take environmentalism seriously as long as humanity doesn't get a fair deal.

Re:Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834334)

The problem is that oil prices are heavily subsidized. I mean, I spent a large % of my taxes on a war to secure and stabilize an area of the world that happens to have a large amount of oil. We help fund the exploration of oil to lessen the 'risk', or else they wouldn't bother exploring. And the companies try to save a penny or two for the customer by cutting corners on safety and environmental regulations.

Re:Money (1, Troll)

0123456 (636235) | about 4 years ago | (#32834360)

The environmental movement seems focused on behavioral change, things like, making us recycle things, using less gasoline, etc. It doesn't seem to have a balanced approach to protecting our natural resources and doing all the other things that we want to do in a highly industrialized society.

You seem to believe that most 'Greens' actually care about the environment and the demands for behavioural change are a side effect rather than the goal. 'Green' is where the 'Reds' went after the Soviet Union collapsed and no-one could take communism seriously anymore.

As for 'recycling', the only time it makes any sense is when companies are paying for our junk instead of expecting us to pay to take it away... if no-one is willing to pay for it then it's clearly economically damaging.

Use an active volcano (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833468)

I'm being serious. With the exception of the (large amounts) easy to recycle copper and aluminum, just dump all the useless crap into an active volcano. At 1300-2400F (700 to 1300C) in temp, it will go back to where it came from - The Earth.

Re:Use an active volcano (5, Informative)

JustinRLynn (831164) | about 4 years ago | (#32833528)

"Should We Throw Hazardous Waste Into Volcanoes? [] ". Heavy metals and nuclear waste would just get dispersed into the atmosphere.

Re:Use an active volcano (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833586)

what a stupid question. We should blast it toward the sun.

Re:Use an active volcano (1)

raynet (51803) | about 4 years ago | (#32833990)

Shouldn't we nowadays blast it toward Oracle instead?

Re:Use an active volcano (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834254)

Same thing.

Re:Use an active volcano (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | about 4 years ago | (#32833702)

Considering all the PVC and other polymers used in the manufacture of various electronics (at least parts of it) dumping it all into a volcano where the PVC breaks down into some really nasty byproducts like Hydrochloric acid and various chlorinated organic chemicals, I wouldn't recommend doing that. Also just dumping all that potential raw material seems to me to be extremely wasteful.

Re:Use an active volcano (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32833832)

I'm not a chemist, but I would think volcanoes already release noxious gases into the atmosphere anyways. And unless it's ecconomically viable to recycle the small stuff, perhaps it's better to incinerate it anyways. Letting it lay around only to leach into ground water could be worse. Think of all the extra time, energy, and materials it would cost to care for the ill because of the stuff. Somewhere along the line, you have to make the call to either burn it, or attempt recycling.

Not just electronics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833516)

Any donated clothes will likely end up in the hands or African 'entrepreneurs' and sold for profit.

Is this fake? (1)

fermion (181285) | about 4 years ago | (#32833522)

  1. Pay to pick up and ship computers
  2. ???????
  3. Profit!!!

    So how does one make a profit in this model. I understand that the likea of HP and Dell and Apple might use these fake recycling services as all they need to get material out of the country and have it end up in someone else's landfill. There is no expectation of profit, just minimization of the cost needed to generate good will. But to make a profit?

    I pay for a truck. I pay someone or personally recruit legitimate firms to provide cover. I or one of my agents are at the collection site. Packing costs money. Shipping costs money. Unpacking and disposal costs money. These are a lot of expenses, and I don't see any receivables, unless the parties receiving the product are actually paying for the computers, in which case we can also assume that some level of recycling is going on.

    The question is if enough of the computer is recycled to justify the effort and resources consumed, presumably mostly fuel. I would say the best way to deal with this question is not to pass regulation that adress symptoms, but rather to pass regulations so that resources are not undervalued.

Re:Is this fake? (2, Interesting)

grahamwest (30174) | about 4 years ago | (#32834350)

Fake-recycler gets hardware donated for free.
They pay $X in collection costs.
They pay $Y to ship to China.
Chinese company pays $X+$Y+$Z to buy the hardware.
Fake-recycler makes $Z profit.
Chinese company pays $A to strip hardware to components (copper wire, metal cases, individual chips).
Chinese company sells components for $X+$Y+$Z+$A+$B to whoever is buying the wire and so on.

$X probably isn't very much. It's not like it's a delicate operation.
$Y is low because there are so many otherwise-empty containers going back to China.
$Z doesn't have to be very much for the business to be worthwhile - it's not like it employs a lot of skilled people.
$A is very low. There's a large surplus of unskilled labour in China.
$B is probably low, but it's not like the company is doing the dirty work itself.

As long as $X+$Y+$Z+$A+$B comes out cheaper than the cost of buying the stuff new everyone's getting paid. I honestly don't know how cheap new copper wire is or exactly what chips can be reused in this way.

A lot of this is due to externalities, after all.

Fosdick? (0, Offtopic)

christoofar (451967) | about 4 years ago | (#32833524)

I'm loving that author's name.

It's almost as good as Dixie Normus.

Re:Fosdick? (0, Offtopic)

Loadmaster (720754) | about 4 years ago | (#32833604)

but neither rise to the level of Bigus Dickus. He has a wife you know?

Looks like the BAN site rewards hypocrites. (5, Insightful)

jcochran (309950) | about 4 years ago | (#32833530)

Given the fine article here, I see that China is one of the bad boys in actually doing bad stuff, yet the [] web site has China listed as "Excellent". So something seems more than slightly fishy. Reading again, the site merely rates how the countries in question perform lip service to a set of 4 treaties and totally disregards how the countries actually act regards limiting pollution.

Sorry people, but this is a prime example of actions speaking louder than words.

Re:Looks like the BAN site rewards hypocrites. (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 4 years ago | (#32833676)

Well, the reason is that they've signed on, but they don't enforce. It's illegal for them to process in any other manner, it's just not particularly well enforced. Here in WA we've got a law on the books which puts manufacturers on the hook for the cost of recycling the items after they're broken. It works well, all the customer has to do is drop it off at a drop site and the items are recycled. Most of it is done in the US, with only a couple portions being shipped over seas.

I'm not familiar with how other parts of the country handle it, but I do know that CA has a similar measure which charges the end user for recycling when the item is purchased.

Re:Looks like the BAN site rewards hypocrites. (3, Insightful)

lyinhart (1352173) | about 4 years ago | (#32833948)

Yup. This is why the Basel Conventions, like lots of international "treaties" and orgs (*cough*U.N.*cough*) don't do anything. Countries partake in them just for the sake of international politics and don't follow through on their promises. Nope, the best way to stem the tide of ewaste is by making it more beneficial (i.e. $$$) to recycle things the right way and make electronics that don't contain so many hazardous materials.

Re:Looks like the BAN site rewards hypocrites. (4, Insightful)

Kreigaffe (765218) | about 4 years ago | (#32834342)

This is one of the things people usually overlook when bashing America.

We rarely sign on to treaties and accords and fail to honor them; more often, we fail to sign on yet still follow the rules as if we had.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Pick more than just one! (5, Informative)

Tackhead (54550) | about 4 years ago | (#32833538)

'This trade has become a thriving business. Companies called "fake recyclers" approach well-meaning organizations -- charities, churches, and community organizations -- and offer to hold a Recycling Day. The charity provides publicity, legitimacy, and a parking lot for the event. On the designated day, well-meaning residents

...who figure that one big pile of garbage is better than two little piles of garbage, bring in perfectly-functional equipment and sing it with me the next time it comes around on the guitar.

You can get anything you want at Natalie's Restaurant [] . (The punchline, half a decade later, is that the 21" CRT I salvaged from a dumpster still works, yet I've gone through one LCD monitor due to a failed inverter and a lack of easily-available spare parts since then.)

The only thing I've noticed in the five years since I wrote that parody is that it's getting increasingly hard to find surplus equipment these days. Product lifecycles are shorter, so consumption isn't reduced. It's sure as hell not getting reused. And it's only getting "recycled" in the sense that it's being dumped into the homes of people so poor that they melt solder off printed circuit boards over an open pit fire.

Recycling hardware for which you have no further use is a good idea, but if you're going to recycle your old electronics, do some research and find an organization that's doing it right [] . ACCRC turns the scrappy scrap into scrap, turns the interesting scrap into art, and the non-scrap into computers that go directly to people in its own neighborhood.

Re:Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: IN THAT ORDER (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 4 years ago | (#32833720)

Reduction in consumption creates no trash and no need to expend energy to refresh/recycle

Reuse eliminates the energy required to collect, sort, reform, and resell

Recycling is only a step better than trash, since the cost of creating the raw materials is not borne, but is offset somewhat by the need for all the reprocessing. It still uses a lot of energy. The biggest advantage is that the materials don't have to be mined.

Re:Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Pick more than just one (2, Interesting)

jackbird (721605) | about 4 years ago | (#32833982)

Nonprofit Technology Resources [] in Philly does something similar, without the art. A very worthy organization, and one that I am constantly surprised local geeks haven't heard about.

Anonymous Coward (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833544)

Did the author of this article, just blame the US, for the fact that China and Africa allow their citizens to poison the environment and dump hazardous chemicals into the water ? He should stop buying computer equipment, or call the African government with his complaint.

Re:Anonymous Coward (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833836)

...or call the African government with his complaint.

I'm sure the President of Africa will be very interested to hear this complaint.

Re:Anonymous Coward (4, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32833918)

He emailed me quite recently, so I know for a fact he a is pretty approachable and down to earth fellow. His English is not very good though.

Fake PCs? (5, Funny)

DWMorse (1816016) | about 4 years ago | (#32833574)

Who recycles fake PCs? I've seen them at Ikea and other furniture stores, I suppose most of them ARE cardboard...

"Feel Good" recycling considered harmful (3, Insightful)

JustinRLynn (831164) | about 4 years ago | (#32833626)

(opinion) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The least of which is Recycle.

People get fooled into thinking they can buy more and reuse less because they practice "feel good" recycling. Recycling at an energy/material loss (such as with paper), is more harmful than simply dumping or incinerating it, partly because of the actual net loss, but also partly because of the smug mindset people enter into. Compare hybrid owners who drive more because they own a hybrid.

Without "feel good" recycling, people might be more inclined to think about purchases (which comparable food comes in the less reusable less wasteful container), and manufacturers might be more inclined to adjust the market accordingly.


How creative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833634)

" Companies called "fake recyclers" ... "

Wow, that's what you call them? Wow.

Not the free market... (0, Troll)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 4 years ago | (#32833644)

This isn't the free market working, this is what happens when you create regulations to try to tax people in order to recycle. The vast majority of people really don't care where it goes, so long as they get their money back. Rather than keeping it around and selling it at garage sales, they can make more money getting their money back at a "recycling" center, so when people are so eager to "recycle" to get their money back, it ends up in the hands of the corrupt because the average person doesn't care.

Taxes and regulations don't make people care, it makes people want to game the system. This is a fine example of the government fucking with the free market where the electronics would probably just be traded via garage sales and thrift stores for a few decades until technology improves to easily recycle them.

Re:Not the free market... (4, Insightful)

IgnoramusMaximus (692000) | about 4 years ago | (#32833852)

This is a fine example of the government fucking with the free market where the electronics would probably just be traded via garage sales and thrift stores for a few decades until technology improves to easily recycle them.

People so ignorant and so determined to foist their "me, me, me, I, myself, mine, all mine, fuck you!" world-view onto everyone else should be exhibits in some sort of "museum of insanity" where researchers into mental disorders could at least get some use out of you.

I mean, you really suppose that people would "trade via garage sales" all that junk which they actually pay money for to be hauled away into massive, monumental, all-consuming land fills that keep growing year after year around any major city in the developed world? Really?

The natural state of affairs in the consumer distopia is to, get this, consume without any regard to the consequences. People buy plastic crap, they use it until it breaks (a period usually measured in months) and then they promptly throw it out, followed by a new purchase of cheap disposable crap. And this model is a pivotal element of all the so-called "industrialized economies". Recycling occurs in the fucked-up model of "free market" only if some material in the waste is somehow worth extracting, at a minimum effort possible, which is precisely why it is shipped to China and Africa where children can have the privilege of wallowing in toxic shit to extract traces of raw materials. That is an unregulated "free market" at work. It works as long as the children are disposable and dying of toxic exposure tomorrow beats dying of hunger today. "Freedom" of choice in the "free market", as long as it isn't spoiled by all these "evil communist gubmint" types trying to do meddle doing evil things like trying to stop impoverished kids from inhaling toxic fumes and mountains of toxic crap from growing. The glorious "freedom" to pollute as long as it is somewhere else then you, cause "you got yours and the rest should go get theirs", you mendacious fuck, no?

Hypocrites (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | about 4 years ago | (#32833704)

As if Europeans don't shipping off toxic/nuclear wastes off to India and other places, not to mention blowing up nukes in the middle of Pacific Oceans (the cheese monkeys, who else?).

Re:Hypocrites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833816)

Oh look, another xenophobic tosser.

Take a moment to look at the squalor (2, Informative)

BeforeCoffee (519489) | about 4 years ago | (#32833770) []

Look at the human tragedy. Thank God today you don't live like that.

And it's no one's fault over here, no unsigned treaty, that could create that kind of depravity. Please just for once put down your politics and look a problem square in the eye: China's just got a bad culture and a worse form of government. It's shameful to allow people to live so rotten, period.

NO, before you get all guilt-ridden and try to heap the blame on "us": shameful, rotten, PERIOD, end of story! Good day, sir.

Re:Take a moment to look at the squalor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833938)

You should see my bedroom!

Linux could save the World (4, Interesting)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | about 4 years ago | (#32833798)

One of the reasons these computers are being chucked out is because they can't run the latest software - Linux is just as bad. You have to upgrade the OS to make it secure because after a while, the OS isn't patched for vulnerabilities. ex: I had a machine with RH 8 on it and I wanted to upgrade to Fedora for a more stable release and I couldn't because, the processor being too and lack of memory. I couldn't find any memory for the damn thing - at least reasonably priced (New memory is actually cheaper than the old shit)

Windows will continue to bloat up and so will Apple's OSes. Why doesn't the Linux community make a nice slim and secure distribution that will run on a 486/586 with only 256M of memory - or less?

I've been thinking about a non-profit for recycling these machines. Many many poor people could use them.

Re:Linux could save the World (5, Insightful)

natehoy (1608657) | about 4 years ago | (#32833972)

Why doesn't the Linux community make a nice slim and secure distribution that will run on a 486/586 with only 256M of memory - or less?

Some of the lightweight distros, like Peppermint, Puppy Linux, and several XFCE-based distros, would run quite nicely on a 486 with 64MB memory. If you insist on a heavyweight distro like Fedora, you've already made your feature/performance decision, and you haven't chosen performance.

Re:Linux could save the World (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834290)

fluxbox is a great window manager for something that low on ram.

Re:Linux could save the World (1)

raynet (51803) | about 4 years ago | (#32834064)

I've been using Debian on my SBC's that have 64MB RAM and 200MHz Cyrix (Pentium compatible) CPU. As long as you don't use bloatware like Firefox, it runs just fine. You could probably run it with 32MB RAM if you manage to enable swap during installation, otherwise the installer causes OOM and kills itself. And then there are the various BSD variants, I am sure some of them still run on 486.

Re:Linux could save the World (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834300)

You are correct sir. I run debian on a Zipit z2. That device only has 32MB of ram, but has a whole desktop OS on it.

Re:Linux could save the World (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834216)

There are lot of linux distros sized for something with 256MB of RAM. Mind you no 486 will have that much. I run a full linux desktop environment on a handheld device that only has 32MB of RAM. Either you are trolling or uninformed.

DSL and puppy are both good choices.
What kind of memory do you need? If I have it I would be happy to mail it to you.

I would also be happy to help you find a distro that would suit your needs if this is a genuine interest.

Re:Linux could save the World (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834248)

My email is my username at, in case you would prefer to contact me that way.

Beware DIRECTV FUCKING THIEVE (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833850)

Deciving you every single fucking way they can-- DIRECTV FUCKING THIEVES! - youve been warned...

iWaste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833908)

iWaste. A new brand of recycled Apple computers made in China.

Hard Drives... (1)

poly_pusher (1004145) | about 4 years ago | (#32833950)

I would imagine that most of the people who brought the parts for recycling didn't even wipe the drives they were using. Being a charity it sounds pretty benevolent. I would imagine old hard drives collected in this manner would be pretty valuable...

Women the world over (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834082)

all love a bad-boy.

Can't be done (2, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | about 4 years ago | (#32834092)

I don't think PC recycling can be done.

It takes more work to disassemble a PC than it did to assemble it from those parts in the first place. When you're done, there isn't much of a market for old 128MB RAM chips, 30GB hard drives, 500 MHz motherboards, etc.

Is there a viable technology that shreds computers with giant steel rollers and sorts the flakes according to material, and sells aluminum flakes, etc. and sells them? Is there a safe heat process? There must be something, since there are companies that claim to provide certified recycling to meet government regulations. But I can't find one. All I can find is stories of third-world dumping.

It may be safer and better for the environment to dump old PCs in U.S. landfills than to send them to parts unknown for "recycling." We should be able to make landfills that can take appliances with heavy metals and electronic plastics without passing it on to the water supply.

Re:Can't be done (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 4 years ago | (#32834250)

It isn't clear that PC recycling can be done cheaper than just letting expendable kids do it over open fires; but that isn't the same as saying it can't be done.

Compare your average PC, in terms of metals content, to the sorts of ores that are considered economically viable to extract. Particularly once you consider that somebody with a selection of common screwdrivers, and maybe a prybar, can do substantial material separation mechanically(or, if labor costs bite, shredder + magnets). With either screwdriver work or shredding + electromagnets, most of the steel that went in can be recovered fairly easily. The remaining scrap is, in percentage by weight, substantially richer in things like copper, gold, lead, and tin than many ores that are considered commercially viable.

The real nuisance is a lot of the plastics. ABS+dyes+possibly plasticisers and other application specific additives isn't worth all that much, Ground fiberglass composites are probably worth even less.. However, with a lot of electronics, both of those will have enough halogenated flame retardants baked in that you can't really safely burn the stuff, and burying it is just an invitation to the local groundwater for any lead you didn't manage to extract.

Re:Can't be done (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834340)

Lots of poor folks could buy the computers you are describing, at the right price. A 500Mhz p3 +. 4 128MB ram sticks. would be 512MB total and a 4 30GB drives software raided together all running a lightweight linux distro should be fine for many folks.

"fake recycling" (2, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#32834150)

Looked to me like a lot of recycling was going on in the photos. Burning "e-waste" isn't recycling, but the other three pictures showed people in the act of recycling electronic waste. So what makes recycling, "fake" recycling? At a glance, it is recycling in a developing world country where environment laws of developed world countries don't exist or aren't followed, if they do exist.

Stop getting your (1)

AnAdventurer (1548515) | about 4 years ago | (#32834222)

Not to out geek anyone but wasn't this the plot of the "premier" Futurerama on Comedy central last week?

Recycling is extremely expensive (1, Insightful)

cdrguru (88047) | about 4 years ago | (#32834238)

Everyone should know about paper recycling - it costs more to use recycled paper than new. The quality is questionable as well. The result is that most paper is dumped into an incinerator or a landfill by recycling centers because it is pointless to attempt to recycle post-consumer paper.

Plastic bottles can be recycled... except if one tiny little bottle cap or ring gets into the mix the entire batch is worthless. Since this happens most of the time again plastic bottles are not generally recycled.

Aluminium is one great success in that it is actually cheaper to smelt down aluminium cans than it is to process the raw ore. So a lot of aluminium is actually recycled and it makes economic sense.

Really, if we wanted to build the cost of recycling computers and other high-tech devices into the product cost you would quickly see a drop in new product consumption. $500 for the computer with a $500 add-on for recycling it. $600 for an iPad with $500 for recycling it. $25,000 for a car with $10,000 for recycling it. It would be one way to deal with the recycling problem and it would immediately end most of the need to actually recycle things because the sales would be so reduced as to not require much recycling at all. It would be a way of actually implementing "reduce".

Without that, there is going to be little incentive to either meaningfully reduce consumer buying or force consumers to recycle obsolete or non-functional items. I'd say a minimum charge of $500 for any high-tech device would be reasonable, assuming the devices are being disassembled and processed using Western wage level workers. Now the $10 for the plastic water bottle (each) might also have an effect on both sales of such single-use bottles and the number entering landfills.

Re:Recycling is extremely expensive (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32834362)

I have no idea where you are getting your info, but you are wrong on plastic bottles. They sell them as regrind.

More than 4 countries haven't ratified (2, Insightful)

mdmkolbe (944892) | about 4 years ago | (#32834276)

The summary says the US is "one of four countries that have not ratified" but the link just lists four notable countries. Scroll down a bit and you will see that they list 15 countries haven't ratified any of the "International Toxics Agreements" (only 15 have ratified all). But is it worse than that since they only list 163 countries when there are 195(*) countries in the world. Assuming the countries they don't list haven't ratified on then that means there are a total of 47 countries that haven't ratified.

Technically the US is "one of four countries that haven't ratified", but technically it is also one of five countries that haven't ratified, and one of three, one of 12, one of 18 and one of 47 countries that haven't ratified.

(*) The UN has 192 member countries but excludes Vatican City, Kosovo and Taiwan.

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