Where computers go to die – The growing e-waste crisis

I’ve never been one to jump on the upgrade bandwagon.  At the moment I’m using an old hand-me-down Blackberry (from my mother), my last phone was a sliding Samsung that I had for nearly five years until the buttons had completely eroded and I had to guess whether I was accepting a call or hanging it up.  The Motorola I used before that literally fell apart before I was forced to replace it – the aerial fell off and I drew the line at gluing it back on.  But then I’m an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ kind of person – not a mantra readily adopted in the world of tech.  So obsessed with newness are today’s consumers that mountains of discarded electronics are piling up across the world.  And a lot of them still actually work.

Unsurprisingly, developing countries suffer more from the dumping of electronic goods than the first world who consume a great deal more technology.  Alarming amounts of toxic scrap metal have been reported in China’s Guangdong province and some of the boxes aren’t even open. According to, defective but brand new products from HP, Panasonic and Samsung are collecting in huge hardware ‘graveyards’.  Of course these companies have denied any involvement in the dumping and also deny that it has been transported from the West for disposal on foreign shores.  The area has been a base for electronic recycling for years but it would seem either the amount of disused components is increasing or the recycling itself is decreasing.  E-waste recycling has become big business but the time-consuming process of ‘sifting through technological trash, stripping components for reuse and resale, burning wires to get copper and using acid baths to extract gold from microchips’ cannot be made quick work of, especially with consumers increasing their rate of gadget replacement.

Mobile e-waste

Mobile e-waste –

Dirty and dangerous

Aside from creating unsightly silver mounds, toxic fumes are used in the manufacture of electronic components and the more old items pile up, the greater the danger to the land and the people who live there.  To quote the BBC, “The soil in Guiyu has been found to be so saturated with heavy metals such as lead, chromium and tin that groundwater has become undrinkable.” “Local children suffer from an extremely high rate of lead poisoning” and other carcinogenic substances have given the town the ‘highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world.’  Large electronics companies like Samsung insist that they outsource the help of e-stewardship companies that aim to stop the dumping of e-waste in the third world and dispose of electronic matter safely.  But even if the larger companies are acting responsibly, once the goods are sold on they have no further duty to ensure the same is done down the line.

So, what did you do with your old phone?  The United States is reported to throw away ‘more than 350,000 mobile phones and 130,000 computers every single day.’  With new and unused goods discarded by tech companies, defects, loose components and unwanted bits and pieces, this growing environmental and health crisis has reached dangerous levels.  How should you dispose of your unwanted hardware you say?  There are loads of companies gagging for old phones, computer scrap and disused displays.  Use your new laptop to Google where you can recycle your old one?  And if your old gear still works, you might actually make a little pocket change from eBay.

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