Where do your old electronics end up?

Engadget have posted a couple of videos of regions in China where eletronic waste is disposed of.

Named "e-waste" the most toxic is shipped illegally back to China and boiled down for its precious metals. Children, women and elderly are involved in the process of burning the metals which cause lung disease, cancer and a whole truck load of breathing conditions. Most of the shots you see in the video are mountains of CRT monitors which are discarded regularly by businesses and consumers for TFT upgrades.

One of the "employees" interviewed earns just $12 a day for working in such harsh conditions. If you are considering disposing of any electronic waste then I strongly suggest you watch the video. If you are curious about where our electronics go or are concerned with the planet as a whole this is something you won't want to miss. It's disgraceful that these working conditions and extreme poverty are evident in countries where many of the worlds electronics stem from.


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Two things:

1. Surely plenty of this stuff could be reused or repaired and reused. A well-made CRT has a 10+ year service life; I could see letting its second half be by being sold to a third-world user as a MONITOR for the local equivalent of $10, instead of expecting them to find the equivalent of $120 or more for an LCD.

2. Am I the only one who looks at the huge piles of things to be harvested for parts and says "I'd give you 10 bucks to rummage through and see if there's anything I can use?"

interesting when get companies like dell and hp and whatnot say responsibly recycle they end up sending the crap to these sorts of places anyway. it's just a waste of time as a whole nobody to blame but the idiot who made CRT's with hazardous materials in them.

That was a really good documentary. I didn't know Lisa Ling had a sister, who also films documentaries.

It is a shame that they put their own people through this type of stuff on a daily basis, but what else can people living in poverty do to make money, other then take the jobs no one else wants. I am sure there is better ways of handling this matter then burning toxic electronic parts.

Such a great post Tom, hopefully you will find more of these.

So let me get this straight. FBI can arrest me if I take a picture of statue of liberty but can't do anything about US companies smuggling stuff out of the US. No wonder they can't get rid of poppy in Afghanistan. Instead they keep growing more and more.

One of the "employees" interviewed earns just $12 a day for working in such harsh conditions.

If we all immediately stopped the practise of shipping our electronics to China, that same employee would probably earn absolutely nothing. Ideals are great when your biggest worry is whether you eat at the restaurant or at home, as opposed to whether you will eat at all.

That's not to say I like to see people have to work in such conditions for so little, but I'd rather that they have a source of income if they choose that route, than none at all.

SniperX said,
If we all immediately stopped the practise of shipping our electronics to China, that same employee would probably earn absolutely nothing. Ideals are great when your biggest worry is whether you eat at the restaurant or at home, as opposed to whether you will eat at all.

That's not to say I like to see people have to work in such conditions for so little, but I'd rather that they have a source of income if they choose that route, than none at all.


^ This. It's all well and good getting all self righteous about stuff like this, but the people doing this work are the poorest of the poor. They have the choice of doing dangerous work that MIGHT kill them in 10-20 years, or not eating and dying of hunger in a few weeks. Not much of a choice really, is it?

Anyway, as long as the west lives on capitalism, this will NOT change.

FloatingFatMan said,

^ This. It's all well and good getting all self righteous about stuff like this, but the people doing this work are the poorest of the poor. They have the choice of doing dangerous work that MIGHT kill them in 10-20 years, or not eating and dying of hunger in a few weeks. Not much of a choice really, is it?

Anyway, as long as the west lives on capitalism, this will NOT change.


So, you see nothing wrong in exploiting the poor? They should be grateful for any small crumb you throw to them? There are better ways for them to work than to live in your garbage. As if outsourcing wasn't bad enough.....

Foub said,
So, you see nothing wrong in exploiting the poor? They should be grateful for any small crumb you throw to them? There are better ways for them to work than to live in your garbage. As if outsourcing wasn't bad enough.....


Way to go on completely failing to understand what I'm saying. I did NOT say it's OK to "exploit" these people, I said they're the poorest of the poor and this is the ONLY work they can get. No one forces them to do this except their OWN people. In an ideal world they wouldn't end up doing this kind of work, but since when has this been an IDEAL world?

Capitalism has caused this problem. Our "throw away" society has caused this problem. These people, as unfortunate as it is, have the choice of cleaning up OUR crap, or starving.

Foub said,
So, you see nothing wrong in exploiting the poor?

That's a nonsense and predictable response. Are you saying then, that given these people would, in all probability, have no money at all if it were not for this money they receive, you see nothing wrong with them slowly starving to death as they can't afford to feed their families? No, of course not. It just highlights the stupidity of your argument.

I doubt that a single person here likes, supports, or condones this practise, but for these few people, you can bet your life that they are thankful it exists. To them it is the difference between eating and not eating. Look further than your own nose and you'll see there is a big imperfect world out there.

There are better ways for them to work than to live in your garbage

Then why don't you go out there and show them that. I'm sure they will be thankful to you. If you can't or you won't then you have no real business pouring vitriol over what they do to feed themselves do you?

This was on 60 Minutes yesterday. Some US companies were shipping stuff there illegally also. In a sting by the FBI (or one of those acronymed govt places) they found 44 companies willing to ship CRT monitors to China (for recycling) even though it's illegal to do so.

Here's some more reading if anyone wants to: 60 Minutes on CBS

But hey, those new Mac laptops and iPods are COOL, so you just have to upgrade them every six months... :P

My old electronics? Still in a box (actually, two boxes now) in the garage - much to the chagrin of my wife. :P

I am a pack-rat for electronics, as I never know when I might need that old ISA slot SCSI card I used for my ZIP drive.

Actually, I do know when I might need that card.... Never.

markjensen said,
My old electronics? Still in a box (actually, two boxes now) in the garage - much to the chagrin of my wife. :P

I am a pack-rat for electronics, as I never know when I might need that old ISA slot SCSI card I used for my ZIP drive.

Actually, I do know when I might need that card.... Never. :ermm:

Play Fallout too much eh? :P


The emphasis on this story should be that this is indeed illegal, that most of this garbage by US and European regulations is destined for modern recycling but instead the cheaper and selfish way is chosen and all this toxic waste is sent to China, India and some other places in the world.