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The Real Dangers of Exporting E-Waste

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Kevin Marshall
Kevin Marshall
June 8, 2012

When it comes to how electronic waste is handled in the United States, many people would assume that the government carefully regulates it. 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 recycled correctly 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 is developing nations that are dealing with issues 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 is forced to dispose of this in an unsafe and unfavorable matter. It is no doubt that these countries are at a disadvantage especially because they have no structured method of 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 emerging countries, the U.S. is poisoning their society and contributing to this global crisis caused by improper e-waste dumping and disposal.

It is 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 is 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 developing 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 the government rarely reveals it. 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 trash to third world countries which again have little to no recycling infrastructure? With that being said, proponents against the shipping of e-waste should take a stronger stance against the federal government to ban all e-waste exports to developing nations.

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