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Where Computers Go To Die

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the not-a-rest-home dept.


broohaha writes " has a featured article on where all our unwanted techno trash gets sent, and what is not being done enough to account for all the so-called 'recycling' we're doing. From the article: 'More than 50 percent of our recycled computers are shipped overseas, where their toxic components are polluting poor communities. Meanwhile, U.S. laws are a mess, and industry and Congress are resisting efforts to stem the effluent of the affluent.' Some sites to visit dedicated to attacking the problem are Computer Take Back Campaign and Ban Action Network."

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It's easy.. (1)

SonicBlue (921984) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104079)

It's easy! They go to museums considering they don't die "as often".

First Post? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104082)

That's Basel Action Network, not Ban Action Network!

Re:First Post? (1, Flamebait)

5plicer (886415) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104291)

Who modded this as offtopic? It should be modded informative IMO.

another place that takes them in (5, Informative)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104083) []
Disabled guy takes old equipment, cleans and refurbishs it, repairs it if needed, loads Linux and gives it away to the needy.
Some of it is resold to cover basic costs but it's pretty much a non-profit.

Re:another place that takes them in (2, Funny)

SonicBlue (921984) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104096)

Suddenly I feel bad for those 286's I *threw away* a few weeks ago. :\

Re:another place that takes them in (3, Informative)

filtur (724994) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104103)

Mine go in my parent's basement.

Or here's some computer recyling in Portland Free Geek []

Re:another place that takes them in (4, Interesting)

jacklarge (843778) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104349)

I found Free Geek a while back and liked the ideal a lot but as I'm in the UK it sort of died a death. I'm partially involved in PC recycling as an amateur PC builder and Linux advocate so it would be something I'd be interested in doing in my part of the UK. What I'd like to see is if any other like-minded UK Geeks would be interested in a similar 'franchise'.

They have a recycling system that gives back to the community. The basic idea is that geeky types learn how to strip and make good an old PC load Debian on and then it goes to the poor. After a certain number of builds they get to keep one for themselves. Sounds a bit 'hippy' but then internet grew on hippy-ish ideals and I for one commend the organisers on their selflessness.

Anyway please take a look at the Free Geek site and see what a GOOD THING it is. []


Re:another place that takes them in (2, Interesting)

NightWhistler (542034) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104545)

The sad thing is that a lot of the stuff that gets thrown away really isn't all that bad.

My inlaws bought a new pc a while ago because the old one was "broken". What they meant was that the machine was completely bogged down with spyware and crap that Windows had slowed to a crawl. They bought a new machine without asking me, or I could have told them that all they needed was a new Windows install...

I put a fresh install on it and gave it to my neighbour who needed a basic browsing / MS Office machine. (No, I did not put Linux on it... I'm sure I'll burn in Hell for that) ;-)

Seeing the amount of hardware that is tossed out by non-geeks way before the end of it's usuable life-cycle, it sounds like a very good idea to have a bunch of geeks just check the machines and rebuild them into workable systems for students / people that cannot afford their own pc. I'm not sure about putting Linux on it: it's a good way to spread "the word", but it might be a bit too optimistic.

Re:another place that takes them in (3, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104486)

> Mine go in my parent's basement.

Then where do you live?

Re:another place that takes them in (1)

jacklarge (843778) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104500)

>Then where do you live?

Rayleigh, Essex, England. Though be happy to cover most of Essex.

Re:another place that takes them in (4, Insightful)

bjpirt (251795) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104267)

I think the benefits of this are slightly blurry - on the one hand it is socially invaluable to do this and I take my hat off to the guy for doing it, on the other it is an old inefficient PC that uses an awful lot of energy to do not that much.

I was investigating a scheme to get computers to the residents of a village in Kenya and my immediate reaction was to use recycled PCs, then I realised that using something like a low end mini-itx would work far better for them because it would be easier to get out there, could run for a long time on batteries (crucial for intermittent power problems) and is relatively robust (potentially solid state).

Horses for courses I guess, but I still have an extremely strong urge to get as much out of old hardware as I can.

Re:another place that takes them in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104470)

That is by far the worst web-site I've ever seen. Green on green text, most of the links say "Under construction" (I clicked 4 and then gave up), the counter doesn't work, the big IBM and rolm link takes you to another link on the page, but the SuSE on takes you to the SuSE page.

I mean I don't really care how a page looks, but at least make it functional. Now I'll stop complaining...

Re:another place that takes them in (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104536)

Is that your site by any chance and you're promoting it to attempt to get free hardware? Because he seems to be FAR from "giving" it away, $300 for a referbished IDEK Iiyama MF-8521 / MF-8621

woohoo (-1, Offtopic)

slack_prad (942084) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104085)

woohoo first post!
whether computers dies or not ... i have made my mark in this world ...i can now peacefully die :)

Silicon Heaven (4, Funny)

egilhh (689523) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104086)

What do you mean, there's no silicon heaven?


Re:Silicon Heaven (1)

Tezkah (771144) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104092)

What do you mean, there's no silicon heaven?

I think you are referring to the hit movie, All Intels Go To Silicon Heaven?

Re:Silicon Heaven (1)

egilhh (689523) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104105)

No, actually it's Red Dwarf...

(But where do all the calculators go?)


Re:Silicon Heaven (1)

HaydnH (877214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104282)

And here's the script [] for anyone interested.

Re:Silicon Heaven (1)

Tezkah (771144) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104120)

on second thought, I take back my post. "Silicon Heaven" is actually some freaky porn shop I saw on the way to work yesterday.

Re:Silicon Heaven (2, Funny)

this great guy (922511) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104145)

What do you mean, there's no silicon heaven?

Ooh yeah ! I saw this porn mov... oh you mean silicon as in silicon chips ?

Re:Silicon Heaven (4, Informative)

kv9 (697238) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104378)

Ooh yeah ! I saw this porn mov... oh you mean silicon as in silicon chips ? Nevermind.

as the old saying goes: remember kids, silicon is for chips, silicone is for tits.

Re:Silicon Heaven (0)

William Robinson (875390) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104494)

What do you mean, there's no silicon heaven?

There is. But the chips that were not involved in showing pr0n to the users only make it.

Silicon Heaven does exist. (Paging Red Dwarf Fans) (1)

SomethingOrOther (521702) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104553)

Any Red Dwarf fan knows Silicon Heaven [] does exist.

"The concept is used to keep robots, many of which are stronger and more intelligent than their masters, from rebelling; a belief chip is installed in robots to ensure that they will believe that they will go to Silicon Heaven after a life of servitude to humanity."

This article is begging... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104095)

...for a BSD tag.

Re:This article is begging... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104238)

...for a slashdotting to generate ad revenue.

Re:This article is begging... (0, Offtopic)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104439)

Not out of me, it won't generate any! I have multiple levels of advert blocking. Ad-blocking proxy, list of sites with blocked images, and no flash player. Sweet!

Bush administration to blame... (0, Troll)

impeach_bush (967527) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104098)

Of course the Bush administration is at least partially to blame for this. If they had approved the Kyoto protocol [] , it would be harder for the USians to ship their trash to other countries to dispose of it.

Re:Bush administration to blame... (4, Insightful)

Macondo (836066) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104135)

Actually the kyoto protocol would allow rich carbon producing nations to sell their carbon output to poorer carbon negative nations. In fact it has the potential to do exactly what you say it will stop. Just more of the same non-systematic thinking that has got us into this mess in the first place.

Re:Bush administration to blame... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104143)

Damn you're a troll. I'm posting AC to not get drug down with you. I just wish stupid was considered a capital offense.

Re:Bush administration to blame... (1)

Macondo (836066) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104164)

If disagreeing with someone makes you a troll then so be it

Re:Bush administration to blame... (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104293)

Blaming the gov't for everything makes him a pinhead with a tinfoil hat. Blaming Bush and his administration for everything makes him a troll. The "Impeach Bush" crowd are a bunch of moron hypocrits.

Bush lets the oil companies gouge consumers during a time of emergency? Then he's an evil capitalist pig screwing over America to fill his own pockets with oil money. Impeach Bush!

Bush signs an executive order freezing the price of gas in the US as a response to a massive emergency situation? Then he's a fascist. Impeach Bush!

These people hate him for no explainable reason, and he's damned and evil no matter what he does in their minds. And the most illogical thing is they typically get angry at him for stuff Congress should be doing or has already done wrong. Don't like the PATRIOT Act? It's as much the House and Senate's fault as is it Bush, so bashing 1 person out of 536 for personal reasons is simply not constructive and will accomplish nothing.

IMHO Kyoto is dead anyway. (4, Informative)

WoTG (610710) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104168)

IIRC, Kyoto is all about the carbon output. With respect to old computers, Kyoto would have only made the situation worse. Since China and India are exempt from Kyoto, even more old gear would be sent there so that the CO2 generated from recyling the metal wouldn't have to be monitored, counted, or paid for as it would (in theory) in the West.

Not that it really matters, IMHO, it's only a matter of time before Kyoto is officially declared dead. Here in Canada we're hopelessly behind our goal, the only way to meet our target would be to buy a billion dollars of CO2 credits from Russia -- which would have exactly zero impact on CO2 emmissions because Russia's CO2 credit surplus is due to a timing fluke relating to their collapsing economy in the post-Cold War period.

With China, India, and most other developing countries exempt from Kyoto, (and to a lesser extent, the USA opting out) there's very little incentive for those who have signed on to actually do anything. Plus, the costs of meeting the targets through technology (e.g. hybrids, or new power plants, or home upgrades) are enormous.

Re:IMHO Kyoto is dead anyway. (1, Insightful)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104364)

With China, India, and most other developing countries exempt from Kyoto, (and to a lesser extent, the USA opting out) there's very little incentive for those who have signed on to actually do anything. Plus, the costs of meeting the targets through technology (e.g. hybrids, or new power plants, or home upgrades) are enormous.

And yet it has to happen. There is no way around hybrids, new or upgraded power-plants, energy efficiency measures, alternative fuels for internal combustion engines, home upgrades ... (the list goes on) and the longer we put it off the worse the problem gets. That last paragraph of your post is an echo of a very popular conservative argument against pollution and emission control. What that basically says is: 'Doing something to solve this problem (and we are just hypothesizing mind you, not admitting that there actually is a problem) will be to expensive so let's just accept that the only sensible thing we can do is to ignore the problem. After all it is common knowledge that if you ignore problems long enough the forces of the free market will make them go away...' People liked the Kyoto protocol because it seemed like a first step in the right direction nobody ever said it was perfect.

Re:IMHO Kyoto is dead anyway. (1, Insightful)

Alain Williams (2972) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104450)

Kyoto is effectively dead because the world's biggest user of energy (USA) refused to ratify it. The USA has 5% of the world's population but uses 25% of the energy.

When climate change really hits is the USA going to take the can ? No, it will suddenly decide that it is a global problem. Sorry guys: we all share this planet, don't use more than your fair share.

Katrina was worse because of global warming - far, far worse is to come.

Re:Bush administration to blame... (3, Funny)

caffeination (947825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104394)

You created a new account to say this?

Re:Bush administration to blame... (1)

sita (71217) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104531)

For the slowwitted, exactly how would a treaty on reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses have any effect on the export of toxic waste? (Ok, transport costs would rise somewhat, but would that really change anything here?)

Electronics/Computers are not the only items (5, Informative)

$exyNerdie (683214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104106)

Not too long ago, a french ship lined with toxic asbestos was sent to India (finally had to be returned) and had wide coverage in media. The poor are happy to take these things apart and make some quick cash without any knowledge of long-term ill effects. Sometimes, the hunger and immediate needs prevail over any consideration of long-term ill effects. [] 0.stm []

Re:Electronics/Computers are not the only items (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104198)

Even if your eventual fate is to die of long term effects ill effects isn't that better than dying of hunger now?

Re:Electronics/Computers are not the only items (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104212)

No, silly, liberals know what's best for you. They've decided that it's better to starve to death than be "exploited" by the greedy military industrial complex.

Re:Electronics/Computers are not the only items (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104493)

It's one way to deal with the exploding global population...

Re:Electronics/Computers are not the only items (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104210)

You are mixing a number of problems into one:

There are different kinds of trash we dump on the third world:

  • Dumping toxic trash that does not generate technology jobs and does not promote education. Essentially this is using cheap labour to perform "guaranteed death" jobs. The two asbestos ladden french ships which India and Bangladesh refused entry to recently are good examples.
  • Dumping trash that is not toxic, which does not generate any jobs, promotes black market, feeds the local mafia in the process and kills jobs in the native industry in the country in question. A good example are all charities that collect clothing and ship it to the third world. Every item of clothing shipped this way means one less item produced by the local factories. On top of that at least in some countries the distribution channel is throughly controlled by the local organised crime so it can bypass any sanitary controls by bribing.
  • Dumping toxic trash that generates some technology jobs and promotes at least some education without killing the directly involved. It may still kill years later leaking from landfill but there is no direct problem with it just yet. An example are computers as in the article.

I definitely agree with you as far as waste processing/ship breaking and killing local industry is concerned. Case 1 and 2 are crimes and the more is done to deal with them the better. GreenPeace [] keeps a list of the asbestos death ships and does an extremely good job raising public awareness and outright sabotaging the attempts to send them to third world breaker yards. Want no more ships to reach India and kill people there - give them some money (disclaimer - I do).

Few people do anything as far as the clothing dumping. The BBC did a decent documentary on it but it has not sunk in at least here (UK). People still donate to various charities especially religious which dump it to the third world.

As far as the article subject is concerned. Well... As someone who has processed "donations" in an ex-behind-iron-curtain country I can tell you that they make a difference compared to ship breaking or clothing dumping because they:

  • create local qualified jobs
  • go mostly into education, science and charities
The state of an average donation is so bad that it takes several man hours per computer to get it to be anywhere near useable. After that it is put to good use sometimes as long as 7+ years. By the time it goes to landfill the recipient country may as well have reasonable laws. I do not like the idea very much, but I have to admit that there may be some benefit from it.

Re:Electronics/Computers are not the only items (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104217)

Bugger, misspelled the URL [] .


Illegal in Europe, legal in USA and Asia (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104107)

Our router vendor told us that some models will not be available in Europe anymore, because they contain lead and other dangerous stuff. He also told us that they will continue to sell it in USA and Asia, "because it is not illegal".

Companies don't care about the environment, until governments force them to care.

Re:Illegal in Europe, legal in USA and Asia (1)

Kitsuneymg (815431) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104221)

Lead prevents tin whiskers [] . A phenomenon that can short out micro-circuitry. The amount of lead in electronics is miniscule and really poses no threat.

Re:Illegal in Europe, legal in USA and Asia (5, Informative)

spagetti_code (773137) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104251)

In Europe, RoHS [] (restriction of hazardous waste) laws come into effect in June (or is it July) this year. Any electronics imported after that date will need to comply wrt hazardous materials [] - so this means all electronics will need to be on new manufacturing lines with lead free components. And its not just lead - preservatives in plastics among others.

List of main culprits is here [] (Look for "six substances" link).

List is:

Lead - Pb
Mercury - Hg
Cadmium - Cd
Hexavalent Chromium Cr (VI)
Polybrominated biphenyls - PBB
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers - PBDE

Re:Illegal in Europe, legal in USA and Asia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104343)

This causes some really big problems with the lead-free solders (usually tin based). Lead free solders are not as flexible and tend to grow tin whiskers causing earlier failures. But really sooner or later everyone is going to have to clean their act up and I am glad to be a European at the forefront of modern environmental practises.

Re:Illegal in Europe, legal in USA and Asia (1)

mmkkbb (816035) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104490)

It's not illegal YET. California's RoHS compliance date is next January.

Salon is lame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104108)

"Click on the sponsor logo: to read this article and all of Salon for FREE"

Worse... (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104167)

"Click on the sponsor logo: to read this article and all of Salon for FREE"

And when you do, you get to the main page of Saloon, where you have to sift through all the headlines to find your article.

Once you've located it, click on it, you get back to the page where you initially come from, with only the teaser text and the click-on-sponsor link.

Reminds me about the old turn-over-the-card jokes...


Strange Acronym (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104112)

BAN = Ban Action Network?

Isn't that kind of like:

STOP = Stop Teachers Against Pollution?

Re:Strange Acronym (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104123)

Of course, I meant "Opposing"... damn you, preview button!

Re:Strange Acronym (1)

GeorgeMcBay (106610) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104225)

Isn't that kind of like:

STOP = Stop Teachers Against Pollution?

You're posting on Slashdot and that's the best example you can think of??.... Richard Stallman (truly an American icon) must be spinning in his grave.

Re:Strange Acronym (2, Funny)

gameforge (965493) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104237)

You're posting on Slashdot and that's the best example you can think of??.... Richard Stallman (truly an American icon) must be spinning in his grave.
You bastard! You killed Richard Stallman!

i.e., I don't think he's spinning in his grave; he's not dead.

Re:Strange Acronym (1)

kirk__243 (967535) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104232)

That would be a recursive acronym, like GNU (GNU's Not Unix), or PHP (PHP Hypertext Protocol).

Re:Strange Acronym (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104297)

php hypertext preprocessor -- It's not a protocol, it's a programming language

Re:Strange Acronym (3, Informative)

njh (24312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104259)

BAN = Basel Action Network (If you'd RTFA)

Here is the Article (1, Redundant)

phita23 (667236) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104115)

April 10, 2006 | A parade of trucks piled with worn-out computers and electronic equipment pulls away from container ships docked at the port of Taizhou in the Zhejiang Province of southeastern China. A short distance inland, the trucks dump their loads in what looks like an enormous parking lot. Pools of dark oily liquid seep from under the mounds of junked machinery. The equipment comes mostly from the United States, Europe and Japan.

For years, developed countries have been exporting tons of electronic waste to China for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal. Since 2000, it's been illegal to import electronic waste into China for this kind of environmentally unsound recycling. But tons of debris are smuggled in with legitimate imports, corruption is common among local officials, and China's appetite for scrap is so enormous that the shipments just keep on coming.

In Taizhou's outdoor workshops, people bang apart the computers and toss bits of metal into brick furnaces that look like chimneys. Split open, the electronics release a stew of toxic materials -- among them beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury and flame retardants -- that can accumulate in human blood and disrupt the body's hormonal balance. Exposed to heat or allowed to degrade, electronics' plastics can break down into organic pollutants that cause a host of health problems, including cancer. Wearing no protective clothing, workers roast circuit boards in big, uncovered woklike pans to melt plastics and collect valuable metals. Other workers sluice open basins of acid over semiconductors to remove their gold, tossing the waste into nearby streams. Typical wages for this work are about $2 to $4 a day.

Jim Puckett, director of Basel Action Network, an environmental advocacy organization that tracks hazardous waste, filmed these Dickensian scenes in 2004. "The volume of junk was amazing," he says. "It was arriving 24 hours a day and there was so much scrap that one truck was loaded every two minutes." Nothing has changed in two years. "China is still getting the stuff," Puckett tells me in March 2006. In fact, he says, the trend in China now is "to push the ugly stuff out of sight into the rural areas."

The conditions in Taizhou are particularly distressing to Puckett because they underscore what he sees as a persistent failure by the U.S. federal government to stop the dumping of millions of used computers, TVs, cellphones and other electronics in the world's developing regions, including those in China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Because high-tech electronics contain hundreds of materials packed into small spaces, they are difficult and expensive to recycle. Eager to minimize costs and maximize profits, many recyclers ship large quantities of used electronics to countries where labor is cheap and environmental regulations lax. U.S. recyclers and watchdog groups like Basel Action Network estimate that 50 percent or more of the United States' used computers, cellphones and TVs sent to recyclers are shipped overseas for recycling to places like Taizhou or Lagos, Nigeria, as permitted by federal law. But much of this obsolete equipment ends up as toxic waste, with hazardous components exposed, burned or allowed to degrade in landfills.

BAN first called widespread attention to the problem in 2002, when it released "Exporting Harm," a documentary that revealed the appalling damage caused by electronic waste in China. In the southern Chinese village of Guiyu, many of the workers who dismantle high-tech electronics live only steps from their jobs. Their children wander over piles of burnt wires and splash in puddles by the banks of rivers that have become dumping grounds for discarded computer parts. The pollution has been so severe that Guiyu's water supply has been undrinkable since the mid-'90s. Water samples taken in 2005 found levels of lead and other metals 400 to 600 times what international standards consider safe.

In the summer of 2005, Puckett investigated Lagos, another port bursting with what he calls the "effluent of the affluent." "It appears that about 500 loads of computer equipment are arriving in Lagos each month," he says. Ostensibly sent for resale in Nigeria's rapidly growing market for high-tech electronics, as much as 75 percent of the incoming equipment is unusable, Puckett discovered. As a result, huge quantities are simply dumped.

Photographs taken by BAN in Lagos show scrapped electronics lying in wetlands, along roadsides, being examined by curious children and burning in uncontained landfills. Seared, broken monitors and CPUs are nestled in weeds, serving as perches for lizards, chickens and goats. One mound of computer junk towers at least 6 feet high. Puckett found identification tags showing that some of the junked equipment originally belonged to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Kansas Department of Aging, the State of Massachusetts, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the City of Houston, school districts, hospitals, banks and numerous businesses, including IBM and Intel.

Under the Basel Convention, an international agreement designed to curtail trade in hazardous waste, none of this dumping should be happening. Leaded CRT glass, mercury switches, parts containing heavy metals, and other elements of computer scrap are considered hazardous waste under Basel and cannot be exported for disposal. Electronics can be exported for reuse, repair and -- under certain conditions -- recycling, creating a gray area into which millions of tons of obsolete electronics have fallen.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation not to have ratified the Basel Convention, which would prevent it from trading in hazardous waste. The U.S. also has no federal laws that prohibit the export of toxic e-waste, nor has the U.S. signed the Basel Ban, a 1995 amendment to the convention that prohibits export of hazardous waste from Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development member countries to non-OECD countries -- essentially from wealthy to poorer nations. While this policy is intended to spur reuse and recycling, it also makes it difficult to curtail the kind of shipments BAN found in Lagos.

Despite a growing awareness of e-waste's hazards, the U.S. government, says Puckett, has done nothing in the past several years to stem the flow of e-trash. Given the Bush administration's reluctance to enact or support regulations that interfere with what it considers free trade and the difficulty of monitoring e-waste exports, the shipments continue. "Follow the material, and you'll find the vast majority of e-waste is still going overseas," says Robert Houghton, president of Redemtech Inc., a company that handles electronics recycling for a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Kaiser Permanente. As Puckett says, "Exploiting low-wage countries as a dumping ground is winning the day."

  Over a billion computers are now in use worldwide -- over 200 million in the United States, which has the world's highest per capita concentration of PCs. The average life span of an American computer is about three to five years and some 30 million become obsolete here each year. According to the International Association of Electronics Recyclers, approximately 3 billion pieces of consumer electronics will be scrapped by 2010. Overall, high-tech electronics are the fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream both in the U.S. and Europe.

The EPA estimates that only about 10 percent of all obsolete consumer electronics are recycled. The rest are stored somewhere, passed on to second users, or simply tossed in the trash. The EPA's most recent estimate is that over 2 million tons of e-waste end up in U.S. landfills each year. As Jim Fisher of Salon reported in 2000, a toxic stew from discarded computers leaches into groundwater surrounding landfills.

Current design, particularly of equipment now entering the waste stream, makes separating electronics' dozens of materials labor-intensive. "Almost every piece of equipment is different," says Greg Sampson of Earth Protection Services, a national electronics recycler. The process almost always involves manual labor and, once the electronics are dismantled, sophisticated machinery is required to safely separate and process metals and plastics.

The fragile CRTs with leaded glass used in traditional desktop monitors and TV screens pose a particular recycling challenge. Metals are the easiest materials to recycle and the most valuable -- circuit boards typically contain gold, silver and other precious metals. Plastics are the peskiest, as many different kinds may be used in a single piece of equipment and markets for recycled plastics are far less established than those for scrap metals.

E-Scrap News, a recycling industry trade magazine, features about 950 e-scrap processors in its North American database -- a list that doesn't include nonprofits or reuse organizations. And not all electronics recyclers offer the same services. Some dismantle the equipment and recover materials themselves. But many simply collect equipment and do initial disassembly, then contract with others for materials recovery.

According to the International Association of Electronics Recyclers, this business now generates about $700 million annually in the U.S. and is increasing steadily. Most recyclers charge fees to process equipment. But essentially profits come from the sale of materials recovered or by selling equipment or components to those who will do so. There's also a speculative aspect to the business, especially when the scrap metal market is booming and the value of recyclable circuit boards increasing -- it reached an all-time high in January 2006 at $5,640 a ton.

Some recyclers -- mostly smaller shops -- acquire used equipment at surplus property auctions, on eBay or other such resale outlets, then resell equipment whole or in parts by the pound to what Houghton calls "materials brokers" and "chop shops." One batch of equipment may end up being sold to a series of brokers before it reaches a materials processor, and much of what these brokers deal in ends up overseas where costs are lowest. "If a company is buying your electronic scrap or untested equipment," rather than charging for this service, "it's highly likely that it's going overseas," says Sarah Westervelt of BAN.

In 2000, Salon's Fisher noted that U.S. computer manfacturers bucked the European trend of instigating convenient buy-back programs for used computers -- a resistance that continues today. Since 2000, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, an environmental group, has maintained a "report card" of computer makers' environmental progress in recycling and manufacturing. In its most recent report card, it notes that the "most alarming trends in the electronics industry in the United States continue to be staunch opposition to producer take back programs."

Currently, there is no consistent, industrywide or government program to certify or license electronics recyclers. As a result, says Houghton, "It's extremely difficult to peel back the onion far enough to find out where the equipment goes. It may change hands two, three or four times before it leaves the country." And, he explains, "The cost of shipping a 40-foot container full of computers, relative to the value of the equipment," even at scrap prices, "is pretty low." With dealers from China to Eastern Europe and Africa ready to buy used electronics for scrap or reuse, and U.S. domestic transportation and recycling costs high, it's actually more profitable to load up a container and send it to Nigeria or Taizhou than it is to process equipment at home.

So traveling the seas in the shadows of legitimate high-tech exports are huge containers that may hold as many as 1,000 used computers. They're loaded on ships at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports in the U.S. for Atlantic crossings, or at European ports, including Felixstowe, Le Havre and Rotterdam, arriving in West Africa by way of Spain. Others cross the Mediterranean from Israel and Dubai, or travel Asian Pacific routes from the U.S., Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

Compounding the difficulty of tracking an individual computer is the fact that several different companies -- including freight consolidators at both exporting and importing ports, some located in countries distant from both buyers and sellers -- are responsible for moving these goods. A recycler in Texas may well be unaware of who is unloading or receiving his goods in China or Africa. Many international freight shippers make it easy to track a whole container -- just punch the number into their Web site -- but information about who's shipping what is not public information.

Even in Europe, where e-waste exports are regulated, illegal shipments slip through. "From our work, we have no doubt that there are improper shipments of waste," says Roy Watkinson of the U.K. Environment Agency, which in October of 2005 reported that 75 percent of the containers it had inspected that month contained some illegal waste, including e-scrap. A European group, IMPEL, a network of environmental regulators, has been monitoring this trade, and has found ships loaded with damaged computer equipment sailing out of Wales bound for Pakistan in containers marked "plastics."

According to accounts by Lai Yun of Greenpeace China and Mark Dallura of Chase Electronics in Philadelphia, and news reports from China, corruption is common among customs officials there. Dallura told the Washington Post in 2003 that he ships discarded computers to China via Taiwanese middlemen. "I sell it to [the Taiwanese] in Los Angeles and how they get it there is not my concern," Dallura said. "They pay the customs officials off. Everybody knows it. They show up with Mercedeses, rolls of hundred-dollar bills. This is not small-time. This is big-time stuff. There's a lot of money going on in this." Today, loads of e-scrap continue to enter the country despite the Chinese government's official crackdown on these imports.

  In an attempt to find out how computers belonging to the U.S. and state government agencies -- including one from a Wisconsin school district -- might end up in Lagos, Nigeria, I tried to get to the bottom of what happens to the over half-million computers the federal government disposes of each year.

Much of the federal government's used but usable computer equipment (including cellphones) is placed with another government agency or donated to a school or community nonprofit (usually chosen and vetted by an individual agency office). The rest (the exact numbers are not known) goes to the General Services Administration -- the agency that deals with the procurement, use and disposal of government property -- for public auction. State governments work similarly, usually through state surplus property offices or equivalent programs. No one I consulted had any estimate of how many computers state and local governments discard annually. What was clear is that the ultimate fate of significant quantities of government electronics is poorly documented.

Equipment left after these donations and sales is sent out for recycling. Some federal and state agencies choose their own recyclers. Some federal agencies send used computers to the recyclers awarded contracts under the EPA's electronics recycling program, called Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition services. A number send equipment to the Federal Prison Industries' computer recycling facilities, which dismantle equipment and send parts on for materials recovery. Many state and local governments (and school districts) put their electronics recycling contracts out for bid, often choosing the company that charges the least to handle and process the equipment. This itself is a red flag. "If there's no charge," or prices are extremely low, especially for monitors, cautions Sampson of Earth Protection Services, "chances are high equipment is being recycled using cheap labor or by less than optimum methods."

What struck me about the GSA and other public auctions was the lack of oversight, both in terms of where used equipment might end up -- potentially creating environmental hazards -- and in terms of data security. BAN had scrapped hard drives that it purchased in Lagos analyzed by the Swiss firm NetMon, which found correspondence from staff at the World Bank and from Wisconsin's Child Protective Custody Agency, among others. As a result of chaotic recycling, "There's a definite concern for our security," says Eric Karofsky, senior research analyst with AMR Research, a firm that analyzes business supply chains.

Recent GSA auctions have included computers belonging to the Census Bureau, the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, the Border Patrol, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Anyone over 18 from a country the U.S. does business with, who has a valid credit card, can buy at these auctions, many of which are conducted online. Auction participants are hard to identify as their bids are recorded only by user names, but it's unlikely that anyone is buying a load of 75 used CPUs for personal use. And there are thousands of waiting online buyers. In the U.S., a laptop sells on eBay about every 45 seconds, reports senior category manager Stephani Regalia, who helped launch eBay's ReThink program devoted to selling used electronics.

The GSA keeps records of who's bought equipment, but does not track what happens to equipment that's been sold, nor does it ask buyers why they're purchasing the electronics. "Why would we?" asks a GSA staffer in Boston. The result is that at both the state and federal level, large quantities of electronics are purchased by brokers, auctioneers and individual dealers who often sell the equipment for export.

For example, one company that has bid at GSA auctions, CTBI Co., of San Antonio, also works as the Morsi Corp. Mike Hancock, the company's proprietor, tells me that he sells working equipment to overseas buyers, including those in Indonesia. The scrap, he says, goes to China, Pakistan and Canada, but another company handles those transactions, so he doesn't track things further. As far as he's concerned, none of his scrap has ended up in Nigeria. "I don't do business in Nigeria," Hancock says. "There are too many bad credit cards there."

One electronics recycler that does do business in Africa is Arizona-based The staff person I spoke to (who would not give me his name), in the company's Chicago office, says nothing ends up in landfills, and that working equipment is refurbished for schools or sold on eBay. But it also exports computers to India and China where, the staffer says, functional CRTs are remade into TVs. ScrapComputer also sends equipment -- all working, I am told -- to Malaysia and Egypt, and to West African countries including the Congo. Clearly, this is not the only company selling into Africa, but given the fluid nature of the business, it's extremely difficult to pin down which recyclers knowingly sell e-scrap with a blind eye to dumping and unsound recycling methods.

Still curious to know how a computer owned by Wisconsin's Wauwatosa School District ended up in Lagos, I tracked down the office, SWAP (Surplus With a Purpose), that handles used computers for Wisconsin school districts. Tim Sell, SWAP's business manager, tells me that SWAP -- part of the University of Wisconsin -- accounts for everything it handles. He says equipment not refurbished for donations or placed in state offices goes to the Wisconsin State Corrections Department's computer recycling facilities, which refurbish and recycle used computers.

But he bemoans the legal loopholes that make e-scrap so hard to track. "Recyclers lie to us," he says, explaining that despite assurances, equipment and parts probably do end up being handled in ways SWAP would rather it did not. When I ask about the computer in Nigeria, Sell tells me he knows that individual customers buy equipment from SWAP and stockpile it for sale to bulk buyers either here or overseas, including those who buy to sell in Africa. With so many unknowns and loopholes in the current system of accounting for used electronics sent for recycling, "I don't know how you're going to stop these exports 100 percent," says Sell.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The U.S. may be one of the world's biggest consumers of high-tech electronics, but unlike the European Union or Japan, the U.S. has no national system for handling e-waste. Unless a state or local government prohibits it, it's currently legal to dump up to 220 pounds a month of e-waste, including CRTs and circuit boards, into local landfills. Several dozen states have introduced e-waste bills, and a handful of U.S. states -- California, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington -- have recently passed substantive e-waste bills, some of which bar CRTs from their landfills. E-waste bills have also been introduced in the House and Senate, but neither would create a national collection system.

The export of e-waste has been discussed in Congress but no legislation to regulate this trade has yet been introduced. Matt Gerien, press secretary to Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who has co-sponsored an e-waste bill in the House, says, "Ironically, what brought Representative Thompson to this issue are these export problems." But neither the bill that Rep. Thompson has co-sponsored with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., nor the one introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., would deal with exports.

Meanwhile, says Laura Coughlan of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste, the Bush administration has drafted legislation that would allow the U.S. to ratify the Basel Convention, but is waiting for final clearance for transmittal to Congress. And the Ban amendment, which essentially prohibits sending e-waste from wealthy to poorer countries, "has created issues for U.S. ratification of the convention," says Coughlan, who explains that no "U.S. administration has supported ratification of this amendment, and the U.S. government has been unable to reach consensus with domestic stakeholders."

Legislation in Europe has made electronics recycling mandatory throughout the E.U., as it is in Japan and some other countries. Companion legislation requires the elimination of certain toxics -- among them lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium used in solder, batteries, inks and paints -- from electronic products, and given the global nature of the high-tech industry, these new materials standards could effectively become world standards. Many such changes have already been made and more are in the works, but the old equipment now being discarded remains laden with toxics.

As U.S. lawmakers, manufacturers, environmental advocates, waste haulers and recyclers struggle to find a way to collect the nation's high-tech trash, Americans are left with what policymakers are fond of calling a patchwork of regulations and recycling options. This makes things as confusing for manufacturers as it does for consumers and recyclers. "At some point, the 'feds' will have to step in and harmonize things," says Ted Smith of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

In 2005, the EPA held an electronics recycling summit. Among the issues participants grappled with, and on which there is no industrywide or national policy, are that of certifying electronics recyclers and exporting electronic waste. Complaints were voiced about the difficulty of dealing with products designed with materials that make recycling complicated and expensive. But loudest of all were complaints that the U.S. had too many confusing and uncoordinated recycling efforts. A year later, a few more state laws regulating e-waste have been passed but little else has been done to stop the steady stream of used computers, cellphones and TVs that are ending up overseas, in dumps, polluting soil, water and air.

Mod parent "-1, Theft" (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104467)

There should be a moderation like that, anyway.

Re:Mod parent "-1, Theft" (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104501)

So has the original site not got the article anymore, then? If you light a candle off mine, does my room get any darker?

Recycling tax (3, Informative)

Kj0n (245572) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104125)

In Belgium (and maybe also in other European countries), this problem is solved by asking a recycling tax and making vendors responsible for recycling old hardware and household appliances.

When buying something, a customer has to pay a small amount of money (for instance: 0,5 for a mobile phone), but in return, he can return his old devices to the vendor. The vendor then sends it to the manufacturer who recycles it.

Re:Recycling tax (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104173)

>...he can return his old devices to the vendor. The vendor then sends it to the
>manufacturer who recycles it.

And the manufacturer sends it to China to be recycled...

who then... (4, Insightful)

YesIAmAScript (886271) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104176)

Yes, you send it to the manufactuer. The manufacturer then sends it to a 3rd world country where it isn't really recycled at all, it just sits there and pollutes the enviroment.

That's pretty much the point of the article, and you missed it.

Re:who then... (2, Informative)

10Ghz (453478) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104270)

Finland has similar system as Belgium does. And the are NOT sent to third-world countries, but they are recycled. Well, in Finland, they are not sent to the manufacturer, but to recycling-plants (for free). There they get recycled. Refrigerators have their freon collected and processed in controlled fashion before they are recycled. All the useful elements and material are extracted and reused. This system hasn't been in use for long, but it has caused the amount of stuff being sent to recycling to increase by a lot. And there's a lot less stuff being thrown to the forests etc., since it's easy to dispose it properly. In the past, disposing large appliances and electronics was a pain in the ass.

The downside of this system is that prices of electronics and appliances have this "recycling-tax" in 'em. But the price-increase is few euros for a large appliance, so it's more than reasonable.

Recycling - by law (5, Interesting)

hptux06 (879970) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104129)

Due to an EU directive, computer recycling will become compulsary in the UK in 2008: the related article here [] describes how the WEEE[sic] will force computer manufacturers to be responsible for their products, by providing a recycling service for *all* the electronic devices they sell.

The UK, Brussels' lapdog (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104151)

Due to an EU directive
So what does it feel like to not be able to make your own country's laws?
What does it feel like that all EU votes are deemed invalid unless you vote "the correct" way (see Ireland's votes)?

It must really suck to not have democracy over there.
Of course, you are usd to being rulled by your betters (i.e. nobles).
I mean the loser of an election here bitchs about "no democracy", but that is just cover for them feeling bad that the majority of Americans don't agree with them. Win or lose our elections actually accomplish something. In the EU they don't do anything, except create another re-vote.

No wonder so many British are running to Australia and New Zealand.

Re:The UK, Brussels' lapdog (2, Insightful)

ponxx (193567) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104245)

What in the world are you talking about???

The "re-vote" in ireland was not an election, but a referendum, much like the frequent referendums in the US that get instrumentalised, repeated or overturned by politicians on a regular basis

The european parliament is an elected body (by the people, seats according to population, much like the US congress), while the european comission consists of the (elected) governments of the member states (imagine a senate where senators are the state governors). Which part of this system is "undemocractic"?

> mean the loser of an election here bitchs about "no democracy",
> but that is just cover for them feeling bad that the majority of Americans don't agree with them.

What about those who lose even though the majority of americans *do* vote for them (maybe half a million more than the guy who won??)

Re:The UK, Brussels' lapdog (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104368)

What about those who lose even though the majority of americans *do* vote for them (maybe half a million more than the guy who won??)
Are you attempting to refer to the 2004 US Presidential elction? The one in which Bush received 62,040,610 (50.7%) of the popular vote and Kerry received 59,028,111 (48.3%)? I assume you are, since I've heard that argument over that election before. And I've never figured out how 3M == -500K.

Re:The UK, Brussels' lapdog (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104457)

2000 Presidential Election Gore: 51,003,926 Bush: 50,460,110 51,003,926-50,460,110=543,816 What a great democracy you have in the states...

Re:The UK, Brussels' lapdog (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104483)

Even greaterly(yes, I made that word up, so sue me), Bush's majority in Florida, which is why he won, was only 500 votes.

Re:The UK, Brussels' lapdog (1)

cortana (588495) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104528)

The european parliament is an elected body (by the people, seats according to population, much like the US congress), while the european comission consists of the (elected) governments of the member states (imagine a senate where senators are the state governors). Which part of this system is "undemocractic"?
Not quite right. There are three bodies, the parliament, the council and the commission.

The parliament is directly elected; however it has very little power. It takes monumental effort to alter or block any legislation that the other bodies push its way, and if by some fluke it actually manages to get organised enough to do so, the commission/council will just try again, and again, and again, until they get the answer they want.

The council is not directly elected. It consists of governmnt ministers appointed from the government of each EU member state. The council weilds tremendous power; before any legislation goes to the parliament for modification/approval, the council can vote to adopt it, unmodified, in a simple majority vote.

The council is often (ab)used by its member governments to push through unpopular legislation that would never be passed if if it was proposed in in a democratic way in the government's own country. The government can then turn around to its own people and announce that the legislation must be implemented and that they have no choice in the matter, Because The EU Has Spoken.

There are actually several councils that make up The Council, I think they are divided as a normal government is divided into ministries; so the minister for X from each member government collectively make up the Council for X. A favourite trick of the commission is to schedule some unpopular legislation (e.g., Software Patents) for discussion by a council that has nothing to do with it (e.g., the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries). In this way, laws can be nodded through without having to withstand pesky inefficiencies such as democratic debate; if the Council approves a law then that's the "same" as each member government getting the same law approved democratically in their own countries, and so the law doesn't have to go via the elected parliament.

Finally there is the commission. As in a garden pond, the scum has floated to the top; I doubt a figure among them is not mired in sleaze and corruption. The UK commissioner Peter Mandelson [] lost his job twice over corruption.

The commission is not an elected body, and yet it has the sole power to introduce new legislation; in the rare case where the desired laws are shot down, the commission will just wait a few months/years and push them through again. For an example of this, see the Software Patents debacle [] , which is currently going through the third iteration of this process.

In summary, the EU is a crock of shite; our own governments have betrayed us by allowing it to evolve from the European Common Market (what we actually voted for) to a mostly unaccountable pan-European federal supergovernment. The poster you replied to was dead right when he asked,
So what does it feel like to not be able to make your own country's laws?
From where I'm sitting, it feels pretty damn rotten, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Re:Recycling - by law (1)

asuffield (111848) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104520)

Unfortunately, I don't believe this law says that they actually have to recycle the computers. They merely can't landfill them in the UK. The lawmakers didn't appear to consider the possibility of shipping the old computers overseas and landfilling them in a third world country.

The classic trick is to set up a company in your target country, which "reuses" old computers. Then ship all your stuff over there, and write it off as 100% recycled (for which you probably get tax benefits). The receiving company will landfill most of them and use a small fraction - it's *their* responsibility, and there's no recycling law in such countries.

ewaste is certainly a problem (1)

atarione (601740) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104130)

linking to stories on with their force history channel ad to read the story is also a problem.

I have generally been able to reuse my old computer I upgrade my main pc i move old computers to new tasks...(my old PC is now the Domain Controller for my home network) my 2nd oldest PC is now my media server....etc.

additonally this or that parts I no longer needed have been given/sold to other people for reuse.

I did have a really old computer that i really had no valid use for...I took it to a recycling facility (along with some dead items broken monitor/printers..etc..) I guess hopefully they are more ethical than some of the companies in the story.

heellloooooooo grammar (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104131) has a featured article on where all our unwanted techno trash gets sent, and what is not being done enough to account for all the so-called 'recycling' we're doing

Looks like they've been recycling the grammar manuals over at Salon a little too much...

Catch 22 (2, Insightful)

caffeination (947825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104146)

So you're a savage primitive if you don't recycle, because of all the toxic components in computers, but if you do, you're an imperialist polluter because of all the toxic components in computers?

Why can't anything be simple? Are people really that greedy? I guess what'll happen is some certification will spring up "100% true recycling" or something. These things tend to work out in the end.

This is a problem for who? (0, Troll)

eviljav (68734) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104154)

People have junk they don't want. People pay other people to take the junk. A third group of people whine.

Re:This is a problem for who? (0)

caffeination (947825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104406)

I really hate to repeat this kind of stuff, since it sounds like mindless propaganda, but it's a problem for all three of those groups of people. Environmental damage... bla bla bla... one world... and... it... all we have... if... future generations... ravishing!


Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104169)

This is all good information, personally verified or witnessed by none other than me, but I will not answer any questions about it or go into any detail other than what I've already typed out. I may reply with more information or anecdotes if I see fit, but I've pretty much already scraped the barrel of my experiences.

These are some facts I have witnessed and learned through my employment. Take it at face value, believe it or don't believe it, because I'm not providing corroborating pictures, details, or evidence beyond my own testimony.

Homeland security buys in bulk and at great premium millions of dollars of useless personal appliances from China, such as rice cookers, nose hair trimmers, massage wands, and heating pads, boxes them up, and buries them in railroad shipping containers in the Arizona desert for no reason whatsoever other than to spend its budget and prevent sub-agencies from getting the funds. I suspect that the money goes to a middleman in order to secretly siphon funds into foreign organizations which we can't support over the table, but this is just me trying to find a justification for this massive and intentional government waste.

Donald Rumsfeld needs to wear iced underwear because of some medical condition, and he has his secret service detail hold his spares. He was recently getting uncontrollable long-term erections and had to change up his medical treatments. The underwear and the erections is why he uses a standing desk, not because he is some super-man. He also wears nylon stockings, not because he's gay, but to control some vascular problem with his legs which causes him intense pain.

President Bush uses anti-depressant medication, a lot of it, at a stupendous dosage, and he is hiding it from the American public. This is the real reason he stopped drinking. Because of the dosage, he is also impotent.

Tom Ridge carries 20 credit cards with him at all times, each one with a very low limit. I have never heard of him using one, ever, but he has them. He also wears his socks inside-out, and will flip the fuck out and walk strangely if he is forced to wear them properly, because it drives him crazy. All of his socks must be laundered right side in and then turned inside out before they are returned to him. He gave specific instructions about handling his food, and not allowing his vegetables to touch any other food item on the plate. His utensils must be steamed over boiling water. He will not eat soup which hasn't been boiled within the past 20 minutes or which he has not prepared himself. If any of these rules are violated, he flies into a rage, turns beet red, and will not eat a single thing. He has his personal attendants confirm over and over that the food is as he likes it. He also shaves his forearms and hands because he can't stand the idea of body hair on his arms. He demands that his bedsheets are bleach white and changed fresh every night and he sleeps in a separate bed in a big, tight, body-length nylon sleeve, with a fan blowing over him at full power. He is terrified of animals which have fur or hair longer than one inch, and will not go near curly hair of any kind, even on people. At one time he ran from his office and demanded that someone look under everything for a rodent which did not and could not exist, then he had the entire place wiped down with disinfectant and vacuumed twice. While this was done he couldn't even bear to look at the door, or come within 20 feet of his office. He was in hysterics.

President Bush, when dining at the white-house, does not eat any item of food which has not been first sniffed by a trained dog before being prepared. Think about that.

Word among the staff is that Cheney was drunk when he shot that lawyer, and secluded himself for a day to sober up and avoid felony firearms charges. I don't have any direct information on this because the guys with him at the time are not talking. This is totally unconfirmed, but I think it is plausible.

Dick Cheney has chronic gum problems and his breath smells like shit as a result. He is also a CLOSE TALKER. He keeps a small bottle of diluted hydrogen peroxide which he rinses with every hour on the hour, and he swallows it instead of spitting. He also picks his nose vigorously (violently) and hums loudly and tunelessly to himself while taking shits.

There is a sealed room in the whitehouse which once held a half-ton block of cheese for about 30 years.

The White house is planting its own men among the press agents at press conferences.

The white house lawn is mowed every other day by the same man humming the same tune.

Despite all of this craziness, there is nothing strange whatsoever about Condoleeza Rice. She is completely balanced and normal, if slightly robotic in her personal demeanor. She smells very nice at all times. She does, however, constantly check her investments online from her office when she thinks that nobody is looking, and she has slept at her desk on multiple occasions.

There is an administrative law judge who sits in an office in a building near the white-house, earns around 200k per year and has a secretary, and he does nothing except sit, read, and listen to classical music all day. His secretary likewise does nothing. He gets meals taken to him from the White-house kitchen, and is so lonely that he latches on to whoever gets sent and talks to them for hours about the korean war. His family is all dead and his secretary hates him. In a drawer in his desk he has an old revolver, which he got in there somehow despite that he shouldn't have been able to bring it in. I think he will shoot himself one day.

The "undisclosed location" is usually a local police officer training ground or state trooper college. Shh.

What about all the stuff that doesnt get recycled? (3, Interesting)

skam240 (789197) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104179)

As a fairly poor college student who left the computer industry during the 2001 depression I have lots of broken/obsolete computer hardware and not allot of money. The prices they charge at the recycle centers to take this stuff are quite steep for some one like myself (20 bucks for a monitor is a weekends worth of micro brews for me after all :) ) making just dumping them in the dumpster near my house extremely tempting. I'm sure there are allot of people less eco conscious than myself who see fit to just throw this crap away rather than pay the fairly hefty processing fees associated with proper disposal. I wonder how polluted our own landfill is due to this.

Re:What about all the stuff that doesnt get recycl (2, Interesting)

gellenburg (61212) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104433)

There was a report on TV some time back (investigative report) which wondered why communities charged for recycling so they decided to find out.

They tagged some recycling trucks and followed them to their final destination:

The city dump.

If the story ended there it would have been sensationalistic enough, but the next day they showed what goes on at the city dump.

Normal trash, and trash from recycled bins got fed into these giant conveyor belts where workers sorted through the trash and pulled out all the recyclable material before it got burned.

They asked the landfill operator why, and they said because they make money off the recycling.

After I saw that piece I haven't worried one bit about nor recycling, and I haven't paid for it either. Why should I pay a company money to do some work when it doesn't mean anything in the end and they in turn are just going to make more money?

No thank you.

I'm sure the same happens with PCs and equipment. Copper is valuable. So is gold. If there's money to be made, someone will figure out a way of extracting the raw materials. If the process is not environmentally friendly then that's a different problem.

Power plants didn't used to be environmentally friendly until the laws were changed which forced power companies to install scrubbers and catalytic converters. If you require the recycling companies to clean up their acts then they will.

Effluent of the affluent? (1, Insightful)

leereyno (32197) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104182)

Isn't it interesting how this topic is framed in terms of pop sociology? It does no one any good to frame this problem in these terms, any more than efforts against infectious disease are helped by discussions of humors and prescriptions for bloodletting. The problem isn't a matter of affluence but of responsibility.

Re:Effluent of the affluent? (1)

caffeination (947825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104199)

EXACTLY, and to reinforce your point, FTA:
and China's appetite for scrap is so enormous that the shipments just keep on coming.
Responsibility is a universal thing. Importantly, the Slashdot summary seems to be the only place with the slant, with the article dealing with the wider issue (as in the quote above). Not going to click on some fucking "sponsor logo" to read an article though.

Freecycle? (3, Insightful)

gihan_ripper (785510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104186)

Part of the problem is that we junk our old computers or 'recycle' them. There are plenty of individuals and organisations that don't want or need a brand-new computer and would happily take our old machine. When I was a graduate student, I used to buy second-hand computers from my department every couple of years. I passed on my old machine to my 88-year-old neighbour and slapped Debian Woody on it (it works fine, by the way, and she now uses it constantly for keeping in contact with her family and for genealogy).

These days, if I wanted an old machine, I'd probably use Freecycle [] . This is simply a Yahoo forum for people who want to give away (or get for free!) unneeded items.

Re:Freecycle? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104277)

No, no, NO! "Poor" people from developing countries DO NOT WANT your garbage! A P-350 is junk, no matter what country you're in. In addition, older computers don't have modern power-saving options, and consume too much electricity. If you want to help the developing world, pay to have your old garbage recycled IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY.

Re:Freecycle? (1)

gihan_ripper (785510) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104537)

Perhaps you were responding to the wrong comment? My comment was about giving old machines to people in my neighbourhood, not to developing countries.

Too true (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104539)

They don't want our garbage, they want our money, and if that means them having to take the garbage, well, they'll take the garbage and the money for now...

I do my part (2, Insightful)

Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104206)

by keeping all my old computers. They all have a use, if for nothing more than a file server or router or something.

Re:I do my part (5, Insightful)

prichardson (603676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104256)

Of course, your oldest computer probably consumes a lot of power for the meager computing power or storage space it provides. This hurts the planet in an entirely different way.

Re:I do my part (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104356)

At least it's hurting the planet!

Re:I do my part (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104484)

Old computers don't use more power than new computers, in fact it's quite the opposite. Power supplies are now much more powerful than they were during the 486/pentium era, partly because CPUs are much more power-hungry.

OK, the ratio WPCC (Watt Per CPU Cycle) has definitely decreased over the years; but to be honest, do you really need all the CPU cycles to do a simple firewall or a file server?

Making an efficient use of an old computer is more eco-friendly than under-using a brand-new computer.

Re:I do my part (2, Insightful)

amias (105819) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104292)

Reusing old machines as routers is a good idea , but , they do use far more power than
a small dedicated router would . Of course if you get your electricity from a renewable source then this is not a problem . These providers will then replace the electricity you
use from the national grid with electricity from renewable/sustianable sources.

That said , even if you don't have clean power reuse is still better than recycling but
please consider your power sources .

No great solution (2, Insightful)

bm_luethke (253362) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104220)

As far as I know there is no "silver bullet" out there. That is, there is no clean great solution (clean and cheap enough to not drive tech companies out of business). Recylcing isn't that clean, dumps aren't that clean, and even if sending old computers to poor areas that they are still "fast" works now it eventually will not. If there is then I will agree to push to legislate it.

While I will not purchase from known pulluters if possible (as is my right to choose), I can't say I blame companies if a country out there says "Send me your crap - we will take care of it cheap". I don't see how one can feel justified in controlling international trade in ways they like but not in ways they do not as "like" tends to be personal and arbitrary (even if your line in the sand is pollution the next person may be "terrorism" or something else). You get control or no control - personally I choose as little control as possible and only where a clear line is.

Even then you need a clear plan in opposition - we have the discarded computers and "Can't do anything with them" isn't a solution (they have to do something with them). Yes, maybe it's REALLY bad for the environment but the stuff is there and we have to do something.

In this you can not make a clear line in the sand, only a random one where you feel it needs to be. Nothing really wrong with that other than many will have other random lines in the sand (and you do not get angry and worked up because someone has a different line in the sand).

Eh, anyway, this has been a known issue even in the early 90's when I first got into computing - I assume it was known before then, although I do not know how long before (my guess is even in the early days of computing).

Finally, don't take this as a too negative post. If you have a solution that allows companies to stay in business and is clean - by all means propose it and I'll support it. This isn't anything close to something I keep up with, only through news blurbs. Every one I see is complaints, no solutions. Complaints are OK as long there is a solution - I have been going bald since my early 20s, complaining about it hasn't stopped anything. Sometimes every choice sucks and you choose the least sucky (for instance, cost and effectiveness for baldness cure is horrid, thus best option is to accept it and go on unless you are one of the unusal individual that it works for).

Economics (3, Insightful)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104236)

It all comes down to economic incentives and laziness. Right now it is cheaper to mine new metals and process raw oil to make the plastics and wires that make up our disposable electronics. Right now it is cheaper to toss them into a landfill or ship them to China for children to disassemble and extract and recover what's worth recovering. Right now it is cheaper to drill holes in the ground and dig out the fossil fuels than to figure out a new way to produce energy.

When the equation changes, we'll figure out a better way and we'll gradually start doing something different. This pattern hasn't changed for centuries.

An interesting business idea (unpatented as of yet) for you speculative investors, would be to collect and safely store (in landfills, or wherever) large amounts of technological waste of known quality (say, cellphones and ipods only, no monitors, or something). Then sit on it for a few decades, and wait for mining and recovery/recycling technology to catch up. Sort of like buying up land that has oil shale on it. You know we'll probably need it someday.

Re:Economics (2, Insightful)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104485)

Right now it is cheaper to mine new metals and process raw oil to make the plastics and wires that make up our disposable electronics.
"Cheaper" in the same way that stealing your neighbour's milk is cheaper than paying the milkman for your own milk. Of course, eventually the neighbour will notice; and the longer the theft goes on, the worse the consequences will be. Solution: impose a tax on "virgin" raw materials wherever it would be viable to use a recycled alternative, so it will be cheaper for manufacturers to buy recycled.
Right now it is cheaper to toss them into a landfill or ship them to China for children to disassemble and extract and recover what's worth recovering.
Then increase the tax on landfill and the export duty on potentially-hazardous shipments, so it becomes cheaper to recycle materials locally.
Right now it is cheaper to drill holes in the ground and dig out the fossil fuels than to figure out a new way to produce energy.
Then increase the tax on fossil fuels and provide subsidies to encourage the use of non-fossil fuels.
When the equation changes, we'll figure out a better way and we'll gradually start doing something different. This pattern hasn't changed for centuries.
The Government have the power to start changing the equation right now, by means of taxation and subsidy. As more environmentally-friendly alternatives come onto line, economies of scale will kick in and the need for subsidies will be lessened. This will offset the reduction in taxes on environmentally-damaging practices which are becoming unfashionable.

Oh, and while you're at it, please ban filament light bulbs {except where being used to illuminate revolving machinery, obviously} and disposable batteries, and exempt lead-acid batteries from pollution control {they're still about the least polluting option, 100% recyclable at end-of-life and lead is expensive enough already to ensure this is done}.

FreeGeek in Portland (3, Informative)

whistlingtony (691548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104299)

Freegeek operates in Portland. I do volunteer work there and it's a neat place. They take old hardware, strip it, recycle what they can, and the rest gets put into their rebuilding program.

They take the decent stuff, and after testing it gets built into new systems (Yes, they put linux on them!) and given to other non profits, needy types, etc.

The beauty of the system is that they teach volunteers to build these sytems. The volunteers learn a bit, build so 6 systems, then they get to take the sixth home with them.

So, Freegeek does the following:
Recycles old hardware
gives "new" boxes to good causes
teaches people how to build a computer
teaches people how to use linux
gives people who can't afford a computer a chance to earn one

All around, a damn fine setup... And before you ask them, no they don't have one in INSERT YOUR CITY HERE. :D

They go to die... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104341) my freaking workplace ! Grrrr.

Obligatory link to Free Geek (2, Informative)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104449)

Anytime one of these articles comes up, someone posts a link to Free Geek [] , your local place where technology is recycled. That is because people think Free Geek is awesome. Because it is awesome. Although, you know, you can also learn a lot about Free Geek here []

Woah!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15104460)

That's amazing. Salon's still going!

Dumping? Starving?? So much spin..... (4, Insightful)

jageryager (189071) | more than 8 years ago | (#15104530)

> sees as a persistent failure by the U.S. federal government to stop the > dumping of millions of used computers, TVs, cellphones and other
> electronics in the world's developing regions, including those in China

I don't see it as dumping if the Chinese are smuggling the stuff in..

I agree that it sucks to live in a third world country, and it sucks to live in a polluted environment. But what will these people do for food if they can't recycle? Will they starve?

It's easy for rich fat Americans and Europeans to be critical of situations that put people and the environment at risk.. But we mostly all have food to eat every day, and homes, and money. I'm reluctant to pass judgement on other people I don't know or understand. If was starving I would work a dangerous job to buy food.
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