TOXIC WASTE FROM TECH SCRAPYARDS
TOXIC WASTE FROM TECH SCRAPYARDS
2005-08-24 at 11:02:00 am #12385
Tech scrapyards cause toxic waste workplace
Greenpeace urging immediate action
Greenpeace released a
report last week condemning the current recycling of electronic waste
in China and India. The environmental group found that “e-waste”
recycling caused toxic heavy metals (e.g., antimony, barium, cadmium,
copper, lead, mercury, tin) and organic compounds (e.g., flame
retardants using bromine, chlorine, and phosphorous) to be released
into the workplace and the environment, causing large scale health and
Examples given in the report include evidence from areas near the town
of Guiyu in southern China and the suburbs of New Delhi, India. Over 70
samples were taken from ground water, river sediment, industrial waste,
and soil in those areas, and the samples were found to contain the
metal toxins. Recycling programs throughout Asia are thought to be
unregulated for the most part, and the people doing the recycling are
unaware of the health risks. Most of the electronic waste dealt with in
these countries comes from the West, both legally and illegally.
Greenpeace scientist Dr. Kevin Bridgen sees the report as a wake-up
call for manufacturers to eliminate toxins from the products they
manufacture and take an active role in ensuring that those products are
recycled at the end of their lifecycle.
Some efforts to do this are already in place across the world. Japan,
South Korea, Taiwan, and some U.S. states have legislation in place to
make manufacturers more responsible for their products. Ireland has
introduced the Waste and Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
directive, but it has caused prices to rise due to the extra fees it
involves. The U.K. also plans to introduce the WEEE directive in the
second half of next year. And the European Union has introduced the
Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic
Equipment (RoHS) directive to stop hazardous substances from being used
in the first place.
This is a problem that is going to take a very long time to get on top
of. It is only recently that governments have started to respond to the
growing problem of e-waste, and manufacturers have had to be forced to
take responsibility for their products.
The focus at the moment seems to be on dealing with the waste an
electronics product eventually ends up becoming. I think the focus
should be put on making that product as toxin-free as possible before
it is made. Most computers are obsolete after 5 years, and home
electronics products make it to 10 if they’re lucky; yet the products
are manufactured with materials that last much longer than that.
There are inevitably going to be costs involved, and responsible
manufacturing and recycling is expensive. You can bet that people will
embrace it, though, if the process is done in an open manner and
manufacturers can be seen actively using/encouraging recycling. For
example, my Brother laser printer required a new toner cartridge a few
weeks ago. I bought a new one, and it came with a freepost address and
box for the old toner cartridge so that it could be recycled.
That impressed me, and it puts Brother at the top of my list for future
laser printer purchases. If computer manufacturers did the same it
would eventually pay off in the same way.
Manufacturers need to realize that recycling is going to be a part of
their future, and the intelligent thing to do is see how they can make
it a simple process. There may even be some money to be made out of it
by re-using parts and refurbishing and updating machines for a further
sale. I also think we are likely to see a few more recycling companies
being created and dealing with the manufacturers’ waste for them.