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E-M:/ "Recycled" Electronics Products Poisoning 3rd World Workers, Environment



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Enviro-Mich message from Wjkramarz@aol.com
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According to the following article (reprinted with permission),  "recycling" 
of U.S. electronics trash is inflicting  a deadly and environmentally 
devastating impact in places like India and China.   (According to the report 
cited in the article, 50-80% of discarded cellphones, computers, stereos, 
etc., collected for "recycling" in the western U.S., for example, ends up on 
container ships bound for Asia.)  This raises the question as to whether our 
collective time and effort spent in attempting to properly dispose of 
electronic products  is simply naively expended free labor for irresponsible 
"recycling" corporations. 

Especially troubling, according to the report cited in the article,  is the 
U.S. policy on export of electronic trash:

"... the Basel Convention in 1994 agreed to adopt a total ban on the export 
of all hazardous wastes from rich to poor countries for any reason, including 
for recycling. ...  But, to date, the United States is the only developed 
country in the world that has not ratified the Basel Convention. In fact, 
U.S. officials have actively worked to defeat, and then to weaken, the Basel 
waste export ban.  The U.S. government policies appear to be designed to 
promote sweeping the E-waste problem out the Asian back door. Not only has 
the U.S. refused to ratify the Basel Convention and Ban, but in fact, the 
United States government has intentionally exempted E-wastes, within the 
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, from the minimal laws that do exist 
(requiring prior notification of hazardous waste shipments) to protect 
importing countries."
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By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.
Toxic Indifference

It is easy to point an accusatory finger at a smokestack or other corporate 
polluter as the source of environmental problems. And it is true that 
industries put out millions of pounds of toxic substances into our world 
every year. It is harder, however, to flush out the destructive indifference 
that many people practice on a daily basis in our disconnected world. 

Unless we somehow find the way – and the will – to end this indifference and 
challenge the assumptions we all hold dear, the environmental onslaught will 
continue until there are no functioning ecosystems left on the planet. 

It is vitally important that we all periodically examine our lifestyle 
choices and see what level of responsibility we each bear for the 
environmental crisis. It is no secret that few polluting industries would 
exist if there were not customers for their products.

The amount of goods we consume is staggering. In the first 12 weeks of the 
year, you and I spent over $2 billion buying videos. In 2001, we spent $5.1 
billion just on batteries. Brides-to-be spent $35 billion on weddings last 
year, and this year, Americans will spend an unbelievable $550 billion on 
gambling. Corporations will spend untold billions on advertising. 

But the World Game Institute tells us that we could remove all land mines 
from the Earth for $2 billion, provide shelter for everyone on the planet for 
$21 billion, provide health care and AIDS control worldwide for $21 billion 
and eliminate starvation and malnutrition worldwide for $19 billion. What 
keeps us from establishing life affirming priorities? Why is it that in our 
consumer based culture, to be strong, powerful and successful seems to 
require that someone else go without and fail? 

The concept of community has shifted in Western culture and any other culture 
influenced by the values of the West. No longer is it considered as important 
to surround oneself with family and friends. Most children’s dream is to 
leave home, and we are rewarded for achieving independence and being on our 
own. Individualism rules the land, and children are taught that being 
independent is the greatest feat they can achieve. 

We are encouraged to create firm boundaries in our lives to defend against 
having others be too close to us. We put our children into daycare, creating 
a generation of people who are being raised by nannies and know their parents 
only as nighttime and weekend visitors. 

Is it any wonder that most of us feel an emptiness, a void in our lives and 
that so many people feel so alone? Is it any wonder that the holidays bring 
great depression for so many, holidays that highlight our aloneness? Is it 
any wonder that when faced with the magnitude of the environmental 
destruction taking place all around us, we throw up our hands and say 
“enough?” 

Our leaders and the media are quick to offer to fill that void with the 
promise of fulfillment through the acquisition of goods and services. 
Classism quickly gains strength as the race to be the one with the most toys 
takes precedence over everything. 

Indifference permeates our lives. We analyze whether or not to give a few 
coins to a homeless woman begging on the street because we have no control 
over how she uses the money. Yet thrift stores are filled with the goods that 
we have spent millions of dollars on and grown tired of so quickly. 

We are so afraid of fully accepting the consequences of our purchases, for to 
do so would mean that we might have to make another choice, maybe even decide 
to not to buy. 

Billions of dollars are spent on electronics every year, especially on 
computers and televisions. It feels great to get a new TV or computer and 
many of us take the extra effort to bring the old equipment into a store that 
promises to recycle it. Recently, I brought some old computer equipment to an 
office supply store that was doing a recycling campaign. It felt good to have 
made an effort to keep the equipment out of a landfill. But where did the 
equipment really go? 

About 500 companies and groups in the United States take part in the 
electronics recycling industry. Many of these companies are paid handsomely 
by major U.S. corporations to keep these old computers, TVs and radios from 
polluting ecosystems, making their companies a target for criticism since 
their corporate logos are displayed proudly on the equipment. 

The number of electronic items to be recycled is projected to grow from 12 
million in 2000 to 25 million in 2005. Many more than that are thrown out 
each year. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2007, 500 million pieces of 
electronic equipment will be discarded, containing 1.5 billion pounds of 
lead, 632,000 pounds of mercury, and three million pounds of cadmium, all 
toxic substances. 

The United States cannot handle all of this waste, so this hazardous waste is 
“recycled” by selling it to countries like China and India. In New Delhi, 
India, children are routinely employed to burn circuit boards. In Karachi, 
solder is removed from circuit boards by children with blowtorches, a process 
that is usually done indoors with no ventilation. The children breathe the 
highly toxic fumes. 

In a poor village in the Guiyu region of China, northeast of Hong Kong, 
Seattle activist Jim Puckett filmed what few of us will ever see or even 
think about – the real destination for many of our computers brought in for 
recycling. In that village, Pucket filmed clouds of toxic gas rising from 
open vats of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid tended by the workers. Without 
any protection for their lungs, these workers breathed in life shortening 
gases as they dissolved the gold out of computer parts. The leftover gray 
sludge was dumped alongside the river adjacent to the site. 
Puckett, in a special report to the “Seattle Post-Intelligencer” on February 
25, 2002, said he saw very little recycling. Instead, he saw huge amounts of 
toxic waste piling up along waterways. A soil sample revealed toxins at rates 
hundreds of times greater than that of a Superfund site in the United States. 

Puckett’s report, released by the Basel Action Network, Asia Pacific 
Environmental Exchange, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and two Asian 
organizations, said, “The export of e-waste remains a dirty little secret of 
the high-tech revolution.” The report says, “A free trade in hazardous waste 
leaves the poorer peoples of the world with an untenable choice between 
poverty and poison.” 

But we demand low prices, regardless of the global cost. Mark Small, vice 
president for environment, safety and health at Sony Electronics, Inc., said 
electronics waste is a small fraction of the total waste generated by the 
manufacturing of toys, clothing and other items made in Asia. “To be blunt,” 
he said, “we need those low labor rates to get value out of products, so that 
you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a boombox for $30.” 

Our indifference translates into a profound disconnection with the natural 
world and a loss of our roots and our home. Abusing our environment and 
ignoring the cries of pain of our neighbors is easy if you don’t feel a 
connection to the world. 

Shed your layers of intentional or unintentional indifference. Look below the 
surface of every issue in your life. Don’t wonder – find out. Don’t shy away 
from knowing and don’t fear the truth. Knowing the consequences of your 
choices can’t hurt you as much as ignoring them will. 
RESOURCES 
1. See the full report, “Exporting Harm: Techno Trash to Asia,” at: 
http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/technotrash.htm 
2. Don’t throw out those unneeded floppy disks and those wasteful CD’s from 
America Online. They can be recycled. Send them to Green Disk at: 
http://www.greendisk.com/sp1_1.html 
3. Join the Campaign for Responsible Technology at: 
http://www.svtc.org/listserv/lssignup.htm 
4. Read an article about apathy and how to overcome it at: 
http://www.aaup.org/publications/Academe/01ja/ja01loeb.htm 
5. See a discussion with Joanna Macy about how facing the truth about our 
environmental problems can be very empowering at: 
http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC22/Macy.htm 
6. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell 
them that they must take steps to control our high tech waste. If you know 
your Zip code, you can find them at: 
http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html 
{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be 
found trying to keep his awareness from turning into despair. Please send 
your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com 
and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com} 
 
Click Here: <A HREF="http://www.ens.lycos.com/ens/mar2002/2002L-03-15g.html";>
Environment News Service: Healing Our World Com…</A>


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