Today, the de-manufacturing and recycling industry for electronics lacks standards and accountability. Many “recyclers” just strip out the valuable components of electronics and sell the rest to brokers who, in turn, sell them to lower-tier scavengers. When irresponsible de-manufacturers cannot easily dump less lucrative remains in local landfills, they ship these highly toxic remnants to poorer developing nations, taking advantage of cheaper labor and a lack of environmental and safety regulations.
Workers in these countries earn less than $0.17 per day salvaging whatever usable raw materials are left. They wade though the highly toxic remains, which are often dumped in the waterways, on farm land, or along roadsides. Sometimes these piles of e-waste are set on fire to melt the plastics away, leaving only the valuable raw materials. Public reports provide further depth:
“All e-waste contains mercury and lead, and the practices of open burning of plastic waste, exposure to toxic solders, river dumping of acids, and widespread general dumping has become a threat to villagers’ health and environment”
Public Affairs Information Service
“About 50 percent of the electronics waste sent into these areas is discarded. Lead levels in some rivers have been found to be 190 times higher than levels considered acceptable by the World Health Organization. Villagers report stomach and breathing problems, and have to ship in their drinking water.”
National Public Radio
Exports for Reuse Are Often Not Viable
Often, organizations collect used computer systems to send to developing countries to try and help these nations bridge the “digital divide.” This rationalization for illegal overseas dumping causes more harm than good for the citizens of these countries.
The Basal Action Network states that: “In Lagos, while there is a legitimate robust market and ability to repair and refurbish old electronic equipment including computers, monitors, TVs and cell phones, the local experts complain that of the estimated 500 40-foot containers shipped to Lagos each month, as much as 75% of the imports are “junk” and are not economically repairable or marketable.”