A recent episode of “60 Minutes” on CBS focused on the global dumping of electronic garbage. Reporters tracked electronic waste from a company in Denver to Hong Kong, China, where they captured the company “recycling” it and dumping it illegally.
Because of the high percentage of recycled electronics and computers that end up as high-tech e-waste in developing nations like China, India, and Africa, it is incumbent upon us to act as global citizens by being selective in our selection of computer and electronics recycling organizations. Only companies with a complete and ethical recycling process for electronics should receive our financial backing. It is helpful to grasp the economic model of electronic recycling to comprehend the process of global dumping.
Electronic recyclers need to make enough money from their recycling and reuse services. The sale of recovered precious metals and other recyclable materials to cover their running expenses and the cost of de-manufacturing products is not profitable. (yet harm the environment).
What sets apart a company that is environmentally responsible from one that isn’t is how they handle the de-manufacturing process of low-value, toxic elements; how they generate reuse revenues; and how they reclaim precious metals and recycle materials.
Think for a second about how precious metals are recovered. Any company worth its salt would prioritize ensuring its employees are provided with enough safety equipment and training and that any waste generated is correctly disposed of. In addition, professional electronics recyclers will use specialized de-manufacturing equipment that seals off the work area to prevent the spread of potentially hazardous contaminants or dust.
In the de-manufacturing process, an irresponsible recycling firm will not invest. In truth, the workers who disassemble the electronics never set eyes on the unscrupulous recycling businesses. Workers are typically low-paid villagers, as seen in the “60 Minutes” documentary. They use their bare hands and crude equipment like chisels and hammers to peel the precious materials from the discarded items. Public health crises ensue when the remaining waste is thrown in waterways or burned in a wetland.
Low-value, poisonous compounds, such as Mercury in switches and flat screens and brominated flame retardants used on printed circuit boards, wires, and plastic casings, are the most dangerous components of e-waste. Large sums of money are needed to de-manufacture these materials. Responsible electronic recycling is challenging because of the high expense of running a secure de-manufacturing facility, which is why the alternative, worldwide dumping, is so popular.
Many “recycling collectors” ship their materials to irresponsible recyclers, who then “sell” the recycling cargo to exporters to take advantage of the higher recovery prices the irresponsible global dumpers provide. The electronic garbage shipment is delivered to the ports of the world’s poorest countries after a few handshakes. However, most recycled electronic waste is either too old or out of order to have any reuse value. It is exported under the name “Used Equipment” because the United States prohibits the dumping of electronic waste in other countries.
One must be aware of the red flags that indicate a recycling company is involved in global dumping to select a reputable recycler.
Wasteful recycling businesses:
Companies should not use their websites or promotional materials to inform customers about the e-waste problem. To avoid customer queries, irresponsible electronics recyclers make the process look simple.
Avoid global dumping by not disclosing how they track and manage the recycling process. Again, an irresponsible electronics recycler can more easily engage in some global disposal the less informed the consumer is.
Hold greenwashing events with reputable organizations unaware of how to recycle correctly. These electronics recyclers further disarm the general public about “donating” their unwanted electronics at “fundraising” events by making the recycling process sound simple and hiding under the guise of fundraising for schools, chambers of commerce, police association leagues, and other nonprofits. Recycling centers that give to a greenwash campaign can cover the expensive costs of de-manufacturing hazardous materials without collecting any recycling fees from their customers. This hypothetical company structure doesn’t exist since its benefits are too great to be
accurate. It’s a waste of the charities’ time and effort, too. These “recyclers” for charity take things that can be sold for money and dump them in third-world countries. Since selling them as “exports” incurs minimal costs, developing countries end up with 80% of the computer and electronics recycling materials in the United States.
Lack either a valid business license or a fixed location for their electronic waste recycling operation. For many, a P.O. Box or a phone number they advertise during neighborhood pickup drives. It’s always an answering machine when you call. No one is available to provide additional information about their offerings.
Now that you know how to spot an unreliable electronics recycler, it’s time to go through the characteristics of a trustworthy one.
Find a company that has publicly stated its intention to help with the global problem of electronic trash.
Rely on computer and electronics recycling services that inform the public about the e-waste crisis and the ethical disposal of old equipment.
Ensure the electronics recycling company you choose has a detailed procedure for determining which products can be reused and which must be de-manufactured and a tracking mechanism to keep tabs on this.
To ensure the health and safety of the people involved, only de-manufacturing facilities in the United States with the appropriate permits, de-manufacturing machines and processes, and safety and health monitoring systems should be used by electronic recyclers.
Rely on computer and electronics recyclers that earn enough money from their services to put aside enough money to handle dangerous items properly.
Pick a recycler of electronic devices that has earned the esteem of environmentalists who have paid close attention to the plight of e-waste. These ecologists have observed dumping first-hand and can tell you how to spot trustworthy recyclers.
GreenCitizen, Inc. is a global recycling organization focusing on ethically disposing of electronic trash. GreenCitizen currently operates recycling centers in three different San Francisco Bay Area locations: 591 Howard Street (at 2nd Street), 801 Mahler Road, Suite I (just north of the Hyatt), and 161 Homer Avenue (right next door to Peet’s Coffee and Whole Foods Market) in downtown Palo Alto. Learn more about electronic waste disposal and how you can assist at.
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