Posted Nov 18, 2011 in GREEN Berets | 0 Comments

Following the Digital Waste Trail…

In 2004, I dropped off a computer monitor, terminal and television at a warehouse that offered “free” e-waste recycling.  The warehouse seemed straight out of War of the Worlds, filled to the gills with used electronics.  Massive piles - disheveled, disorganized - flowed from the inside out onto the back driveway. I was young and naive and just looking for an easy way to dispose of my old stuff.  It took me a few minutes navigating through piles to find an employee.  Finally a gruff man appeared and told me to just dump  my stuff anywhere outside.  It’s free, I confirmed with him, and was relieved when he nodded.  How easy!  I thought…  What I didn’t realize was that all of those electronics were likely exported (illegally) to Africa or Asia- with the prospect for resale.  Not only did this put my personal information at risk – computer savvy individuals could easily recover all of my data – it also made my waste a problem for those who already have to live in a world of far too many problems.  Yes, my computer may have been left to pollute a rural, impoverished village.

In violation of international law, special handlers ship e-waste in mislabeled containers or mixed in with legitimate goods.   In a 2009 report, Interpol estimates that four million tons of e-waste are generated internationally on an annual basis.   The need to dispose of e-waste has generated an industry worth more than $3 million annually.  In 2005, inspections at 18 European seaports revealed that 47% of electronic waste prepared for export was illegal.  Illegal shipping is thought to be even higher out of American ports, where weak regulations control e-waste export (the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention).

In interviews with reputable, pay-to-recycle operators, Interpol determined that it would be virtually impossible for free e-recyclers to dispose of waste profitably without exportation.    This is because e-waste recycling is expensive.  It is hazardous waste, containing up to 1,000 different chemicals.

Check out this video documenting the personal security and environmental hazards of e-waste.

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