60 Minutes Reveals The Ugly Side of Recycling

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Remember when you were a kid, and your mother always told you before you went out to make sure you wore clean  underwear without any holes?  Why, you would ask thinking that who would know .  Her response was always, “you never know if you would end in the hospital and you wouldn’t want them to see you in dirty, torn underwear.”

The “them” would be doctors and nurses who of course would immediately think differently about you because of your underwear situation. That dirty secret.  I guess this is where the saying, “don’t air your dirty laundry in public” came from.

Well, electronic recycling seems to not be much different than hiding your torn underwear from the world. On the outside it seems that we are all doing the right thing handing over our old computers, outdated monitors, printers, and other electronic paraphernalia  to seemingly do good recycling companies.  We have been told not to throw out our electronic equipment because the toxic chemicals in them would leach out of our landfills into our waterways.

Here is the rub.  These recycling companies are shipping our electronic equipment overseas to be picked apart by poor villagers for menial wages to look for valuable metals. Our electronics have become third world countries playgrounds.  Please watch the 60 Minutes video above that shows us the dirty secrets of the electronic recycling business and the fate of the villagers who put their health and safety on the line for pennies.

This is not the first time I have written about this situation.  In my January, 2008 article entitled “Is your Electronic Waste Being Dumped in Third World Countries?“, I featured a short version of the Basal Action Network’s video about what happens to our electronic equipment once we thought we recycled it.  It was horrifying.  Many third world countries have become our new landfills.

“We may think we’re doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a ‘recycler’ or a free collection event,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN’s e-Stewardship Program Director. ‘But most of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your old equipment for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load it into a sea-going container, and ship it to China, India or Nigeria,” in a joint press release issued by the Basal Action Network and the Electronic TakeBack Coalition.

The Basal Action Network urged people to only recycle their electronic waste through a responsible recycler. In the event, there is not one in your area, some manufacturers offer takeback programs.  Click here for details.

The 3Rs have been ingrained into our brain and the first knee jerk reaction is to recycle rather than reuse. Such organizations such as Share the Technology and the National Christina Foundation take your old computers and donate them to organizations in need.  Check for organizations in your area that use old computers to train people for jobs.  Some local Goodwills may be collecting them for job re-education. In addition, you could giveaway your computers on  Craig’s list and Freecycle.  (See my article for more details.)

I applaud  60 Minutes for televising this Mr. Hyde side of recycling.  Although this is an old story, the more and more publicity this behavior receives, the more change will be demanded. Please do not sweep this under the rug. Tweet about it, Stumble this post, or write about what is going on on your own post.  Let’s make this topic virtual.  The world is in our hands, and without everyone standing up, nothing will change.  We can make a difference. Remember,  President elect Obama message, “yes we can.”

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  1. 1


    it’s lot of work to do about recycle electronic waste not only throw it with shipping it away far away. Where is a suitable place to throw that a lot of electronic waste? Day by day we can see a lot of electronic waste every time they get damage and throw away.

  2. 2


    Kudos to 60 Minutes for exposing the dark side of recycling. The horrific revelations of the electronic recycling industry are too crunching to be ignored, imagine the fate of the villagers who put their health and lives on the line for mere change. The proper authorities should intervene and act upon this quickly.

  3. 4


    It’s amazing how shortsighted if those who mean well are. The horrors behind the recycling industry is a great example. Another example, although not as terrible, is in the organics industry. They are careful to eliminate chemicals and pesticides, and then many use plastic packaging!? That seems a little contradictory don’t you think?! Protect the health of people and their food, but destroy their environment!?
    .-= Boardwalk @ Recycling Christmas Cards´s last blog ..Recycling Christmas Cards for Arts and Crafts =-.

  4. 5


    Very interesting and eye opening report. It is so frustrating to think that we send our products to be recycled with all the good intentions only for it to be ruined by someone trying to make a fast buck.

    It reminds me of a lot of some horror stories from friends who have given money to various charities only to find out the money has gone to some completely separate and unaffiliated company.

    I hope this report reaches people in authority who can actually do something to stop this terrible thing.

  5. 6


    I work in a EMS plan or electronics manufacturing plants, and during our training they told us that there is no way to recycle electronic components. I know it is possible to recycle them; nevertheless, that is not convenient for some industries. As the video says: When comes to electronics newer is better! So what EMS suppliers and their customers do is to implement the ROHS which means: Reduction of Harmful Substances. In this way they suppose to support the environment when they scrap the electronic device. However, those images from china reveal that industries are not doing what they suppose to do: Bury the old stuff. Either whether they bury electronic old stuff or not when rains, all chemicals go deep into subterranean caves where clean water goes so they may poison our reserve of clean water.
    Jesica´s last blog post ..Dining Chairs

  6. 8


    Yes it is, that’s why I do not work for them anymore. There are better ways to get a better life without knowing your are harming the environment.
    Jesica´s last blog post ..Bar Stools

      • 10


        Honestly, That is not going to happen, but if they would the scenario would change for all us. With the benefit of recycling electronic components, they would spend less in raw material. However, they are certain components that cannot be recycled but they are replacing the old ones. Unfortunately, that is what technology is about: Improvements, and that is not manufacturing industries fault. It is ours because we consumers demand more and more: Faster computers, better screens, better everything. Or would you like to use an old VGA CRT monitor instead your LCD monitor? Or your old cassette stereo?
        Jesica´s last blog post ..Bar Stools


  1. […] Recycle: But only as the last-ditch option over throwing something away. YES, it is better than the landfill, because at least some of the raw materials can be used again. But – some recycling does a better job of this than others. Furthermore, some recycling saves energy over creating new products (aluminum wins this one), whereas others do very little. However all recycling uses energy, water, and other resources – in addition to the need for shipping. And it’s not just the soda can you toss in the correct bin: All that new technology you just have to have? The old stuff may get “recycled” – by poor in other countries with lower environmental standards. […]

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