The US alone dumps 30 million computers a year – many end up in India or China:
- Some 70% of the heavy metals in landfills come from electrical equipment waste.
Now concerns are being raised on the impact the dumping – particularly evident in India’s computer heartland, Delhi – is having on both the country’s environment, and its people.
“The problem is that these computers, which are quite old, have a lot of toxic material in them,” Ravi Agraval, leader of campaign group Toxic Links, told BBC World Service’s One Planet programme.
“They have things like mercury, lead, flame retardants, and PVC-coated copper wire.
“When you try and extract or recondition these computers you release these heavy metals and these chemicals. These are disasters for the environment.”
E-waste heads to India, China and Bangladesh because computer “recycling” is a good business, with much money to be made.
Computer recycling involves employing people to strip down the computers and extract parts that can be used again in machines
….The rest is then burned or dumped, both of which are potentially highly hazardous to the environment.
“The process of extraction uses all kinds of chemicals, like acids – which then get dumped into the soil and go into the groundwater,” Mr Agraval said.
“When you burn things like PVC-covered copper wire, you have emissions of very toxic chemicals like dioxins, which get released into the local environment.”
There are also fears that the recycling process, an unregulated industry in India, is also very harmful to the health of those employed to do it.
In particular, the job involves exposure to a number of toxic chemicals both as part of the recycling process and within the computers themselves.
“The people actually doing the brunt of the recycling are people on less than half a dollar a day – women and children working in very shanty-like, disastrous, inhuman conditions,” Mr Agraval said.
“For them, it’s the difference between poison and a livelihood.”
He added that a health survey had shown that recyclers regularly suffered from complaints such as respiratory diseases and skin rashes. [BBC]
There is now a general outcry for less toxic electronic equipment – who thought about computer disposal and toxicity before they became ubiquitous in the developed world? Sometimes we rip alpart electronic equipment to make sculptures, and the stuff that comes oozing out of the guts of those suckers is not to be taken lightly.