Where Does All the E-Waste Go?
Do you know what happens when you throw out your old electronic gadgets? Probably not, but considering they contain both toxic chemicals and valuable metals you’d think someone would know? Unfortunately our new report ‘Toxic Tech: Not in Our Backyard’ reveals the fate of millions of tonnes of e-waste generated each year is largely unknown.
– Storage: Often old electronics are stored in people’s houses. This only serves to delay the day they are finally discarded and reduces the chances they could be effectively reused.
– Landfill/Incineration: When mixed with domestic waste electronics will most likely end up in a landfill or incinerated. Both methods allow toxic chemicals to pollute the environment.
– Reuse and Export: Old computers and phones are often exported to developing countries for reuse or recycling. The vast majority are crudely recycled in e-waste scrap yards causing widespread pollution.
Countries like India and China have long been a destination for e-waste dumping by unscrupulous traders looking to make a quick profit on e-waste from the US and Europe. Now the amounts of domestic e-waste generated by these countries is growing fast. In India only one percent of e-waste is collected for authorised recycling.
Across Asia and Africa informal recycling yards have sprung up where low paid migrant workers use primitive methods to extract valuable metals. This informal recycling creates massive environmental pollution and damages the health of workers and residents in the area.
Even well intentioned shipments of computers for reuse are being abused. In Ghana many traders report that to get a shipping container with a few working computers they must accept broken junk like old screens in the same container from exporters in developed countries. The broken junk and eventually even the working computers inevitably ends up dumped in Ghana where there is no infrastructure to safely recycle toxic e-waste.
One clear solution is for the major electronics companies to eliminate the worst toxic chemicals from their products and improve their recycling programs. Having generated demand for the latest new mobile phone or sleek laptop and made vast profits from sales of electronics it should not be a problem the companies are allowed to ignore.
Mobiles at a recycling plant. Only a fraction of old mobiles are recycled.
In 2006 more than one billion mobile phones were shipped worldwide. However, Nokia (the market leader) recycles just 2 percent of the phones it sells.
The major computer makers do little better, with currently an average recycling rate of just 9 percent. That means the major companies don’t recycle over 90 percent of their old products.
To address the rising tide of e-waste all manufactures must offer free and convenient recycling of their products to all their customers. Where companies are unwilling to do this tough legislation is need to ensure electronics are safely recycled. Japan has effective recycling legislation and Sony reports that it collects 53 percent of it’s old products in Japan. That’s five times better than the global average for major PC makers and shows that solutions are already available.
Philips singled out for bad behaviour
While most companies accept responsibility for recycling their own products, and are improving their recycling programs for consumers, several TV companies are dragging their feet on recycling with the majority offering no recycling for old TVs in many countries. Of the TV companies, Philips stands out by publicly stating that recycling is the responsibility for the customer and government and consumers should pay for recycling, not the product makers. Behind the scenes Philips lobbies to avert legislation to make companies more responsible for recycling their own products.
Basically Philips is helping ensure the status quo remains, that has lead to such a large e-waste problem. We have delivered this report direct to Phillips and other companies to show how they need to stop hiding from the problem of e-waste.
E-waste: The good, the bad and the ugly
Since August 2006 we have been ranking the major electronics companies’ efforts phase out toxic chemicals and improve recycling programs – both vital steps to tackle e-waste.
Many companies have made big strides to improve their products and recycling schemes since the introduction of the Guide. But no company has so far succeeded in offering an entire range of products free of the worst toxic chemicals or a comprehensive, free, global takeback scheme to ensure responsible recycling.
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