EWaste – Part II – Fish for dinner?

Posted January 15th, 2011 by Nanette Heffernan. Comment (0).

Few things better exemplify America’s possession obsession than e-waste. That’s all of our nearly instantaneously obsolete computers, cells phones, TVs, and the accessories that go with them. And don’t forget those disposable printer cartridges. The U.S. produces 3 million metric tons of this junk a year. We are second only to China at 2.3 million. What happens to all of it?

Until recently we sent most of it to landfill where it leached toxins like lead, mercury and cadmium into the ground. Thanks to a few new laws that is now illegal, instead we “recycle” it, right? Wrong. Recycling insiders say a solid 80% of your disposed electronics and printer cartridges are shipped to Asia and India. Hmm, that’s odd. Why spend the money to ship all that outdated technology to China? In short, China doesn’t have the protective environmental laws that we do and the ones they do have in place aren’t monitored. They also have tons of cheap labor so it’s less costly to let them take care of our unwanted toxins. Or is it?

Let’s follow the cycle of your outdated electronics and find out how they are likely coming back to poison you and your family. Your computer goes down so you take it in to be repaired. The tech wizard behind the counter gives you a quote that is nearly as much as it would cost to replace it. “Forget that,” you say. ” I’ve had this thing for three years so it’s nearly obsolete anyway.” So you head down to the big box store to pick up a new computer, which requires all new power cords and myriad other accessories.  While you’re at it you also pick up a printer because it’s practically free. You take it home and set it up on your desk…it’s beautiful! Before bed you haul a pile of packaging the size of a beanbag chair out the trash but you’re not quite done. What are you going to do with your old computer and printer? Not to mention all of the ink cartridges you will now be using. You’re a good person so you take the time to bring them to an e-waste recycle drop off center. They happily take your junk and say, “Thanks, don’t forget to come see us again in 18 months when you’re new computer is obsolete. Have a nice day.”

Two weeks later your old computer, along with thousands of others, are on a barge headed for Guiyu, China, a small town conveniently located on the Lianjiang River, which drains into the sea at the port of Haimen Bay. Day after day thousands of Chinese migrant workers, and their children, crush, pull, pick, and yank tiny bits of valuable refuse from your computer earning $1 for their efforts. They pluck copper, gold, platinum, and nickel pieces from the circuit boards and scoop that last little bit of tonner out of your printer cartridges with their fingers. At the end of the day they set fire to the left over plastic carcasses laced with fire retardants, releasing massive amounts of dioxins into the atmosphere. According to the World Health Organization dioxins are the most toxic chemically related compound known to man. They accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals and 90% of human exposure is through the food we eat. They have proven to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system and interfere with hormones.

It should also be no surprise then that high levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) from flame retardants, lead, cadmium and chromium have been recorded in blood samples of the infant children of these workers. But if that doesn’t concern you, maybe this will. Remember the Lianjiang River that runs through Guiyu? It’s rated a ‘Category 5 River’, which means the water is so polluted it’s not suitable for human consumption or agriculture. Where do you think all that sludge goes? Bingo! It drains right into the ocean creating a toxic cocktail for sea life…and then you eat the fish. Yum! Fish for dinner anyone?

So now what? Check back in two weeks to find out how you can protect yourself, your family, and the environment from this growing disaster.


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