Ever wonder what happens to your old electronics? 60 Minutes aired a story on the dirty underbelly of electronics “recycling” in the States, and it turns out that a significant amount of American “e-waste” ends up in Chinese landfills. As if China didn’t produce enough garbage of its own, computers, cell phones, household electronics, and pretty much anything with petty salvageable parts find their way to Chinese junkyards, and are burned, ripped apart and corroded for valuable metals.
Though we’ve been aware of Guiyu’s status as the e-waste capital of China for some time now, 60 Minutes’ report shocked us as to the extent of the industry and its hazardous effects. The expose is a follow-up to a previous visit by CBS to Guiyu last November, and reveals a number of startling facts about the nature of American e-waste recycling. Americans dispose of a remarkable amount of obsolete electronics: 130,000 computers are thrown away every day, and a breathtaking 100,000,000 cell phones every year, just to cite a few statistics. And who knew how toxic electronics were? Each cathode ray tube, the main component in televisions and computer monitors, contains several pounds of lead. Jeez.
Many of these electronics are “recycled” through small American companies, many of which claim to dissemble the computers in America due to hazardous and primitive methods. Yet that doesn’t stop most of them from illegally shipping waste to China anyway. In a recent sting operation, the American government caught 43 different electronics recycling companies sending unwanted and hazardous e-waste through Hong Kong to southern Chinese cities.
The toll on the environment and the people is massive. The city of Guiyu, the focus of 60 Minutes’ report, has the highest level of cancerous carcinogens in the world. The lead-polluted water and acrid air has caused an expoential increase in cancer and miscarriages, and 70% of children have abnormally high concentrations of lead in their blood. Yet the salvage industry is booming, protected by corrupt businessmen and officials. It seems as long as there’s a market, the practice will continue unhindered. And if that’s what happens to American electronics, we can only imagine how Chinese electronics are disposed.
We thought that the most serious danger that computers posed was spontaneous combustion. After some thinking, we’re even considering buying some special lead-insulated blogging gloves.