E-Waste Pollution

How many mobile phones have you owned in your life ?

How about computers, video games consoles, monitors, TVs, stereos, speakers, video recorders, microwaves, printers, scanners, fax machines, DVD players ?

We carefully put them in the e-waste skip for recycling at the local dump – but where do they go after that ?

The sad truth is that it’s far more profitable to ship electronic waste to places like Nigeria, GhanaIndia and China for recycling and recovery of valuable metals, than it is to do it in the UK, Europe or the US.

Regulations now exist to prevent such trans-boundary shipments of e-waste, but these are not always effective.

Why ?

Because labour costs are cheap and environmental protection for this highly polluting process is often non-existent in the developing world.

In the language of economics, the pollution and health of the workers involved are ‘externalities‘ – not borne by the process, when waste is shipped to the developing world.

The city of Guiyu is the center of China’s e-waste recyling. It is, by any standard, a dirty and polluted place, with numerous health problems affecting it’s 200,000 poor migrant workers. Guiyu is no longer able to grow rice due to widespread pollution, and local water sources have become largely undrinkable.

It might be tempting to think of this of just another far off polluted place, tragic for the people involved, but nothing to do with us.

But it’s our thrown away surplus ‘stuff’ they’re sorting through – burning and recycling on our behalf. It’s our consumption habits, and our unwillingness to want to pay for the ‘externalities’ of  their pollution and health problems, that is to blame.


Take a look through THESE PHOTOS and see if you can spot any of your old gear . . . then consider ‘nudging’ the government to tighten-up regulation, electronics producers to tighten-up their return systems, and also yourself – to question whether you really need that upgrade just yet, or at least, if you do, to send your old phone or computer to a proper new home.


Photo by Wikicommons, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – The Fate of the World, The Most Polluted Place on Earth