Responsible Recycling vs. Global Dumping

Responsible recycling is when you drop off old computers/electronics at a collection event or have a recycling come get them from offices. Responsible recyclers handle the e-waste in ways that are safe for the workers and the environment. Because electronics contain many toxins, there should be other vendors involved to safely dispose of the e-waste. Global e-waste dumping is a little different. Many electronics recyclers don’t actually recycle and actually make more money by selling old electronics to exporting waste traders than by processing it in the U.S. Traders then send it to developing countries where workers earn extremely low wages and where health and safety and environmental laws, enforcement, infrastructure, and citizens’ rights are very weak. In these developing countries, e-waste ends up in “backyard” recycling operations, often behind people’s homes. Typically, they use crude and unsafe methods of taking apart our old computers and TVs to get to and remove the metals, which can be sold, but causes great harm in the process. Dangerous practices include:

  • Bashing open cathode ray tubes with hammers, exposing toxic phosphor dust inside
  • Treating circuit boards with acid to remove metals and then cooking circuit boards in woks over open fires to melt the lead solder, breathing in toxic lead fumes
  • Burning wires in open piles to melt away the plastics to get at the copper inside
  • Burning the plastic casings, creating dioxins and furans (some of the most poisonous fumes to breath in)
  • Throwing the unwanted, yet very hazardous, leaded glass into former irrigation ditches
  • Dumping pure acids and dissolved heavy metals directly into nearby rivers

Now, some material has to go overseas because some processes aren’t allowed to go on in the U.S. AccuShred works with a certified European vendor that makes sure e-waste is recycled safely and securely.

In Guiyu, China a pile of circuit boards first treated with acid and then burned to remove metals next to a river. Massive amounts of dumping of imported computer waste takes place along the riverways. ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

In Guiyu, China a pile of circuit boards first treated with acid and then burned to remove metals next to a river. Massive amounts of dumping of imported computer waste takes place along the river ways. ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)