worse news about eWaste

If 30% recycling is the good news then what's the bad news? I coincidentally browsed two magazines the other day. Time had a short article on eWaste - old computers, monitors, and other electronic gear - and how it was recycled. Besides hazardous materials, it also contains many valuable reusable materials. The problem is that only 30% of eWaste is recycled and the other 70% piles up in landfills.

Then I read a long article in National Geographic that cast a dark shadow on the 30% of recycled eWaste. It showed Monitex, a Grand Prairie, Texas recycler that breaks down and safely recycles all the components. But more often recycling is outsourced. A foreign broker bids on the eWaste. It showed a lagoon in Ghana choked with monitors - the end point for so-called recycling. A boy carries cables to the fire fields where in thick clouds of dioxin and heavy metal laden fumes, the insulation is burned off so the copper can be sold. A man in India melts printed circuit boards to recover the lead - in the same pots where later the family meal will be cooked.

Perhaps it's too self-righteous for us in the west to say that rather than have a job we consider bad, poor third world people ought to have no job at all. I don't know how to judge what work is acceptable and unacceptable, and suspect I ought not to be the one to judge. But the point at which child laborers work in toxic conditions that drastically shorten their lifetime is definitely too much for me.

So I wouldn't say I'm glad for the 70% of eWaste that is dumped instead of recycled, that at least it isn't killing children in Ghana. But I might favor laws in the west against outsourcing recycling to countries that lack basic environmental and labor safeguards. And more than anything, I'm proud of Sun's efforts to keep the hazardous materials out of the computer gear in the first place. Cheers for the EU's "green design" directive! I hope all manufacturers apply those standards worldwide. That's the only truly humane long term solution to the problem.
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I am a software engineer in San Diego, president of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (spec.org), formerly a mathematician and a violist.

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