The Real Dangers of Exporting E-Waste

When it comes to how electronic waste is handled in the United States, many people would assume that it is carefully regulated by the government. However what many people don’t know is where this e-waste ends up and how it is disposed of. In reality, although recycling is a big deal particularly in America, this doesn’t mean all e-waste is properly recycled and manufactured. Another way the U.S. government handles e-waste is through exportation. This means that e-waste is transferred to other countries that lack the infrastructure and resources to recycle electronic waste. In essence, e-waste becomes ‘someone else’s’ problem. Most e-waste exported to these countries are developing nations that are dealing with problems of their own. Although electronic waste continues to become an environmental threat and health issue, the government, industry, and consumers have gradual steps to dealing with this looming problem. E-waste exported to these poor communities in third world countries are forced to dispose of this in an unsafe and unfavorable matter. It is no doubt that that these countries are at a disadvantage especially because they have no structured method to recycling. This inevitably endangers the health of workers handling e-waste. Not only does it harm the workers but also the communities that are surrounded by these landfills and rivers. Many families living near these landfills are exposed daily to open burning, contaminated drinking water, and toxic dumping. By exporting e-waste to poor countries, the U.S. is poisoning their society and contributing this global crisis caused by improper e-waste dumping and disposal.

Reported by the organization, Basel Action Network, 50-80% of e-waste collected by various industries is rarely recycled domestically. Instead the e-waste collected are often placed in container ships and exported to other countries. With tons of old and obsolete electronics disposed of every year, recycling becomes burdensome, which is why exporting is another route that industries often take to handle the growing pile of e-waste. Exporting e-waste becomes a much more convenient method for the U.S. and much more cost-effective because of the cheap labor that would ensue from transporting waste to these poor countries. In China for example, labor costs are generally as low as $1.50 per day. Most e-waste is exported to China, India, and Africa. These countries struggle to regulate the import of e-waste. Therefore, the hope for a cleaner environment is far beyond reach if we continue on this path of destruction. E-waste has been known to be the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Exporting e-waste is often an overlooked e-waste management alternative especially because it is rarely revealed by the government. According to international law, the exporting harmful e-waste is banned, however in the U.S. it is considered completely legal. Isn’t it ironic how the U.S. has the resources, equipment, and machinery to properly recycle waste yet still export some of the waste to third world countries who again have little to no recycling infrastructure? With that being said, proponents against the exporting of e-waste should take a stronger stance against the federal government to ban all e-waste exports to developing nations.