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 On the outside it seems that we are all doing the right thing handing over our old computers, outdated monitors, printers, and other electronic paraphernalia to seemingly do good recycling companies.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.”