China Business

E-Waste Is China Bound

China attorney

Not sure why this is making the news all of a sudden, but two stories just out on how America’s technology waste adds to China’s pollution problem. First is an Associated Press story by Terence Chea, entitled, America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas.

The story is that America’s recycled e-waste is going to places like China, where primitive recycling methods lead to worker health issues and pollution:

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

“It is being recycled, but it’s being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. “We’re preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world.”

The gear most likely to be shipped abroad is collected at free recycling drives, often held each April around Earth Day, recycling industry officials say. The sponsors — chiefly companies, schools, cities and counties — often hire the cheapest firms and do not ask enough questions about what becomes of the discarded equipment, the officials say.

The other story was on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Marketplace last week on how lead from US computers goes to China as waste and then returns as an unwanted part of toys and jewelry. The story is entitled,Our e-waste comes back to haunt us and it interviews CLB’s own Steve Dickinson, who states none of this should come as surprise:

American customers don’t necessarily want lead jewelry. But, says China attorney Steve Dickinson, they do want cheap products — and lead is a cut-rate raw material at a time of sky-high metals prices.

Steve Dickinson: The United States has had an unfortunate cycle in the past 10 years of an excessive concern with price. And when price gets pushed down as far as it’s been pushed, people should assume that there’s going to be a problem.

Sure enough, American authorities recalled tens of thousands of kids’ jewelry sets and charms this past summer, in addition to lead-painted toys. In a provocative new study, professors at Ashland University in Ohio found highly leaded trinkets sold in the U.S. bore the chemical fingerprints of lead from old computers.

On a somewhat related topic, it seems America’s craving for biofuel is creating its own dangerous backlash as well. Check out these two (at least somewhat overly sensational) posts at China Confidential: Corn Ethanol Equals Genocide and Ethanol Extermination: Rising Corn Prices Mean Mass Hunger for Guatemala’s Indigenous People.

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