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MIT Study: Only 3.1% of USA Used Electronics "e-Waste" Were Exported

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the just-toss-it dept.

Earth 58

retroworks writes "The MIT Materials Systems Laboratory, EU's StEP, and the U.S. National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) have released a study, Quantitative Characterization of Domestic and Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics, that analyses collection and export of obsolete electronics generated in the United States. It is the fifth study to debunk a widely reported statistic that '80 percent' of used electronics are dumped abroad. Last year, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released studies of 279 sea containers, seized as 'e-waste' in African ports of Lagos and Accra, and found 91% of the goods were reused. According to the UN, most of the junk at Chinese and African dumps was generated in African cities (Lagos had 6.9M households with TV in 2007, World Bank). The UNEP study also bolsters African traders claims that used product purchased from nations with strong warranty laws outperform 'affordable' new product imported from Asia. Where did the 'original' widely reported statistic of 80% dumping (see /. slashdot dumping story) originate? Last May, in response to an editorial by Junkyard Planet author Adam Minter in Bloomberg, the source of dumping accusations (Basel Action Network) claimed 'never, ever' to have cited the statistic. The new studies have not slowed USA legislation aimed at banning trade of used electronics for repair, reuse and recycling overseas. This month, the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER.org) announced 13 republicans and 5 democrats had signed on to support the bill 2791 to criminalize exports of non-shredded displays, cell phones, and computers. Interpol announced a new 'Project Eden' targeting African geek importers in November 2013." In related news, First time accepted submitter Accordion Noir writes: "Virginia tech researchers and a team from the US, Canada, and Russia have released a study indicating that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 may have had positive environmental results in fish. Reduced mercury releases from mining in areas effected by the economic disarray in Russia led fish to have lower levels of methyl mercury than those in rivers on the Norwegian border or in Canada, where mining continued."

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58 comments

Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (5, Funny)

Narcocide (102829) | about 4 months ago | (#45767221)

Meanwhile, fully 5% of USA's obsolete electronics remains in my spare room.

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 4 months ago | (#45767425)

That can't be true since it's in my storage locker.

Metal encased Z80A computers will be back in style after North Korea pops the EMP bomb.

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767453)

Meanwhile, fully 5% of USA's spare parts remains in my spare parts room. FTFY.

And I do miss my wife (She said either the parts go or she does).

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 months ago | (#45767557)

You jest, but an interesting Slashdot poll would be to guess the weight of all unused electronic equipment within a 50 yard radius of the poster. Another interesting question would be a breakdown on age. I still have an Otrona Attache from the early 80's.... Hey samzenpus ....

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about 4 months ago | (#45767903)

That's terribly unfair.

My warehouse is more than 50 yards from my desk.

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 4 months ago | (#45768967)

Unused? Doesn't everybody have their old rigs hooked up into beowulf clusters?

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45768287)

Hey, I resemble that remark!

Does not make sense (4, Interesting)

Stellian (673475) | about 4 months ago | (#45768311)

criminalize exports of non-shredded displays, cell phones, and computers

I don't see how this makes sense. Shouldn't they criminalize export of waste (ex.shredded electronics) and allow the export of usable office equipment, Pentium 4 computers and first generation flat panels ? That stuff has a high chance of being reused in Africa, it's market value is much above the lead and tin they contain. Reuse is the best form of recycling: a poor family gets a perfectly usable, 4-5 year old computer at 50$, and no waste is generated. My first computer was a second hand unit imported in Eastern Europe from the West. It cost $90, a month of income for my family, I used it for 5 years and it was the best purchase I have ever made in terms of ROI. I am now a software engineer earning a internationally competitive paycheck.

What they are doing is destroying usable electronics and exporting THE JUNK. This must be lobbied by the IT industry, it has nothing to do with environmentalism.

Sure, the second hand computers will eventually end up in the Lagos dump. But so would new ones, after a few more years. So you either deny computers to Africans or you fix the waste management problem. Banning export of USABLE hardware will improve waste problem but massively impact the growth of the African economies, which in turns generates all the other symptoms: bad public finances and public education, corruption, and no environmental policy.

Re:Does not make sense (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45768607)

I have the same view as yours. I grew up in east Africa using scrounged electronics parts and used computers. I now live in the US and am happily employed. Destroying usable exports can only have the effect of artificially creating, forcing, 'new consumers' out of youth in similar circumstances to my own. Let people make their choices between buying used parts, parts from the 'west', or parts from 'asia'.

Similar to lend-lease materiel after the WWII (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45771425)

As WWII came to an end there was a lot (er, a LOT) of used US equipment and vehicles in countries around the world. Some of this was purposely destroyed rather than bringing it back to the USA. In the case of the Willys MB / Ford GPW army jeeps, Willys was keen to sell the new CJ-2A post-war jeep model to farmers and did not want any of their ex-military vehicles to wreck their expanding customer base. I see this electronics move as being much the same - make it illegal for the still-useable gear to be used/sold so as to drive new sales.

Re:Does not make sense (1)

thoughtlover (83833) | about 4 months ago | (#45772711)

I don't see how this makes sense. Shouldn't they criminalize export of waste (ex.shredded electronics) and allow the export of usable office equipment, Pentium 4 computers and first generation flat panels ?

That's exactly what I was thinking about. Why criminalize reuse, but allow shredded, toxic, useless garbage to pass o'er towards third world countries? I'd like to see reuse and fixit shops popping up in rural Africa where I could get a cold cathode tube or inverter replaced on my LCD.

The thought of sending reusable second and third-generation computer equipment to poorer nations is no different than where your old t-shirts end up. Everyone needs t-shirts (I think), but not everyone needs computers. Especially ones that are difficult to impossible to access the internals of --Apple, I'm looking right at you. It's one thing that your parts are more-recyclable than ever, but why are you gluing your products together? I really wouldn't mind a little more depth/height to all these 'ultrathin' products if it meant I could open it up and fix it.

Re:Wait, I could have dumped this stuff... abroad? (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 4 months ago | (#45768507)

That accurately describes my basement. I'm going to have to rent a truck to get rid of all the old computer crap I have, and take it to a proper recycling center.

Vintage computer stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45771355)

Wait - if it really is old then before you dump it, make a quick inventory and offer it on the Vintage Computer Forum http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum/forum.php

Re:Vintage computer stuff (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 4 months ago | (#45775679)

Thanks, but I don't know what qualifies as vintage. I've got a couple of 17" NEC CRTs; the oldest box I have is a Micron Pentium 90, not exactly 386 or 486 stuff....but old by technology standards, the others were self built pentium 200s or thereabout (one is an AMD K6). Would they want that stuff?

Whoever extracts elements first wins. (3, Informative)

ddt (14627) | about 4 months ago | (#45767227)

The interesting thing about this debate is that whoever figures out how to extract elements and useful molecules in a generalized way from any refuse first is going to literally and figuratively be sitting on a gold mine. Countries will jealously guard their garbage as a national resource, and exporting products overseas will make a lot less sense than it does today.

Nano-Thermite? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767351)

How much was extracted, who extracted it, and why was it not examined by MIT as well as NIST? (from the WTC rubble)

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 4 months ago | (#45767541)

The interesting thing about this debate is that whoever figures out how to extract elements and useful molecules in a generalized way from any refuse first is going to literally and figuratively be sitting on a gold mine.

Assuming that the technology to extract molecules will predate the obsolescence of pure/homogeneous materials.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767585)

That's like saying that whoever figures out how to transform lead to gold will be sitting on a gold mine. Yeah, well..

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | about 4 months ago | (#45767845)

Recycling is already a much bigger business than most of us think. According to the book Junkyard Planet [amazon.com], recycling currently employs more people in any other industry except agriculture! That amazed me. NPR Fresh Air had a good interview [npr.org] about the book, in which that claim is made (I haven't read the book).

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45768187)

The interesting thing about this debate is that whoever figures out how to extract elements and useful molecules in a generalized way from any refuse first is going to literally and figuratively be sitting on a gold mine. Countries will jealously guard their garbage as a national resource, and exporting products overseas will make a lot less sense than it does today.

Some efforts have produced less than desirable results [youtube.com].

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45768261)

What gets me is how people are already looking to discard their current displays for new 4K displays when they have no idea what even happened to their CRT displays.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (2)

RevWaldo (1186281) | about 4 months ago | (#45768497)

I wondered if plasma funaces [wired.com] could ever be used to extract the base elements from trash. Right now they just turn heavier elements into inert 'slag'.

.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (1)

maswan (106561) | about 4 months ago | (#45769367)

Gernalized way? Not likely. But in this particular setting (electronic scrap), there is plenty of activity. I know these because they make the local news: http://www.boliden.com/Operations/Smelters/E-scrap-project/ [boliden.com] - but there are several competitors to them too. Lots of copper and gold and other metals in electronics that is commercially recyclable given that someone sorts it out and throws the electronics in containers with just electronics.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (1)

bill.e.gloat (948787) | about 4 months ago | (#45769591)

I've been saying this for years. Garbage dumps will be mined in the future. I'm actually surprised that it is (apparently) more profitable to harvest from raw earth than to harvest from these dumps where things are already concentrated. I guess it comes down to the forms the elements come in; natural earth is probably more predictable than the man-made stuff.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (1)

ahabswhale (1189519) | about 4 months ago | (#45770741)

There are several companies already doing this.

Re:Whoever extracts elements first wins. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45771309)

Most of them are losing all kinds of money ... even now with the metal markets up ...

Unless you are "mining" for energy and using government credits to off set your loses, it is still very hard to separate the mineral from a landfill (even a monofill i.e. crushed cars only)

The easier / more profitable thing to do and what most of the garbage collection companies are doing now is running the collected stuff through a sorter and collecting the "easy fruit" which makes it even harder (more expensive/less worth it) to mine landfills

As Usual (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767243)

Mountain out of a molehill, it seems.

oh, and fp.

R.E. ported (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767329)

I wonder how many grams of NANO-THERMITE were sent away from investigators and "recycled" along with the rest of the WTC rubble-steel (both molten and cold)....

It seems that has been hushed up even worse (for FoI`s sake) than the amount of PERSONAL AND PRIVATE USER DATA "EXPORTED" from facebooger, Iphones/Ipads, and everyones cellphone-bill to THE ISRAELIS via AKAMAI, PRIMESENSE, and AMDOCS.

pretty heinous violations, if you ask me, and not to be compared to what the Palestinians are going through with the illegal settlements, illegal blockade etc.

blog being used as pr response to 'news' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767263)

that's what it looks like is corepirate nazi charades

Shipping containers (3, Interesting)

dj245 (732906) | about 4 months ago | (#45767289)

I was going to post about how high shipping container rates are, and how it doesn't make sense to export them. But a quick estimate shows that shipping from the US to China is 1/7 the cost of China [worldfreightrates.com] to US (Dalian-Oakland). This is probably the cheapest ocean shipping you can find since the trade between the US and China is so unbalanced. Africa is much more expensive. But you still need rail/truck transport on both ends, and you need to pay the people to process the waste (although not much). I would guess a 40ft container would need at least $3000-5000 of scrap electronics inside before it became worth sending to China. Sending to Africa would probably require a scrap value of at least $8000 since the ocean freight is much more.

Re:Shipping containers (4, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 4 months ago | (#45767549)

I have a one word solution to that problem:

Catapults!

Re:Shipping containers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767589)

You are my new comment god.

Re:Shipping containers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45770207)

That wouldn't work, for many reasons. Off the top of my head, there is
- The size of the catapult needed
- The problem of the landing site (assuming you don't want garbage containers pummeling urban centers)
- The related problem of the cost of engineering containers that can withstand the stresses of launch and re-entry, all while landing safely (parachute is probably easiest, but easy is a relative term)

I highly doubt catapults would be any cheaper than regular ocean shipping, which is the most economical mode of transport we have.

Liberals never tire of demonstrating their caring (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767361)

...by banning things they themselves don't use. How dare people sell foreigners goods they can actually make use of?

Re:Liberals never tire of demonstrating their cari (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767667)

Yes, liberals...conservatives never tire of taking money from poor people, and demanding that the poor pay for that privilege. See how ad hominem attacks work? You make stuff up regarding a group of people with no basis in fact and people make you look entirely like the ID10T you are, regardless of whether they are conservative, libertarian, liberal or some mix of them all.

My concern is mainly ... (1, Funny)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 4 months ago | (#45767419)

This article is good, but it misses the boat on the larger issue.

What process is in place to recycle the used electrons that were powering these devices? These extra electrons have been released into the environment and I have yet to see a study assessing the environmental impact.

Re:My concern is mainly ... (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 4 months ago | (#45767563)

There is only a single electron in the universe, propagating through space and time in such a way as to appear in many places simultaneously.

As a mnemonic rule, remember:
Number of electrons = Number of spoons + 1

Re:My concern is mainly ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767659)

There is only a single electron in the universe, propagating through space and time in such a way as to appear in many places simultaneously.

As a mnemonic rule, remember:
Number of electrons = Number of spoons + 1

There is no spoon! We're all doomed! Watch this [youtube.com]

I don't see any "80% dumping" in the prev /. story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767603)

And I don't see it in the report the prev /. story points to either... And "only 3.1% of USA used electronics" is a pretty fucking large amount.

Making It Perfectly Clear (3, Informative)

Toad-san (64810) | about 4 months ago | (#45767823)

That the Basel Action Network disclaimer, that they "never, ever" cited that 80% statistic, was a lie. The link clearly shows that, but not all go to the link.

Godz, I hate liars.

Re:Making It Perfectly Clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45767929)

"If you like your E-waste, you can keep your E-waste."

Commies are dirty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45768003)

released a study indicating that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 may have had positive environmental results in fish.

Well, duh!!!! Good govt requires accountability. Communists demand total obedience to the State. No dissent means no accountability for little things like enviro destruction. Communist countries are the worst when it comes to being eco-friendly. It would be nice if eco-activitists figured that out instead of bitching so much about the free societies of the West.

Re:Commies are dirty (1)

Kojiro Ganryu Sasaki (895364) | about 4 months ago | (#45768185)

Probably because an eco friendly person in the west has a greater chance of influencing the west than he has of influencing some "communist" shithole.

Good or bad?? (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about 4 months ago | (#45769739)

Is this a good or bad thing? Not clear from the article.

Re:Good or bad?? (1)

reve_etrange (2377702) | about 4 months ago | (#45770045)

It's good for device manufacturers, and bad for the folks in developing countries for whom a used computer or television is far preferable to a new one. I'm also not sure where it leaves the various charities which export functional but used devices to such countries.

This comment [slashdot.org] and its child sum this up well. The poster of the linked comment spent $90, a month's wages, on a 4 year old computer, and leveraged that device to eventually become a software engineer earning a lot more than $90 / mo.

Average of $1 of gold in a PC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45770221)

Our local e-waste guy told me that there on average they get 0.18 grams of gold and enough copper and other metals and recyclable plastics to earn 3 to 4 dollars per PC. It appears to be hard ass work. But, with his job exported oversees so some company can make more money, he's done quite well recycling. He has two part time employees. Seeing him makes me glad that we still work hard as a country, in the US. And, it makes me sad that the middle class has to work much harder to try to stay even. So Merry Christmas to all, except fuck you to corporations that outsource purely for profit.

A recycling bill with mostly (R) sponsors (1)

russotto (537200) | about 4 months ago | (#45770309)

You know there's something rotten when a "recycling" bill is mostly sponsored by Republicans. Probably pork.

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