Interesting piece in the Times on the ecological issues/problems raised by ‘green’ technology:
Much of the used computer equipment sent from the United States to developing countries for use in homes, schools and businesses is often neither usable nor repairable, creating enormous environmental problems in some of the world’s poorest places, according to a report to be issued today by an environmental organization.
Basel Action Network Web site The report, titled “The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa,” says that the unusable equipment is being donated or sold to developing nations by recycling businesses in the United States as a way to dodge the expense of having to recycle it properly. While the report, written by the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, focuses on Nigeria, in western Africa, it says the situation is similar throughout much of the developing world.
“Too often, justifications of ‘building bridges over the digital divide’ are used as excuses to obscure and ignore the fact that these bridges double as toxic waste pipelines,” says the report. As a result, Nigeria and other developing nations are carrying a disproportionate burden of the world’s toxic waste from technology products, according to Jim Puckett, coordinator of the group.
I forget where I saw it, but I saw a pretty appalling piece about a group of people (India, I think), who spend their entire lives breaking down old ships for scrap, and are basically destroyed by the heavy metals and toxins they encounter during their job.
Just more in the line of things we don’t think about often enough.
John, I read the same article, that is the article you read but aren’t sure where you read it. Well, here’s one that has the same gist.
Most American computer and peripheral manufacturers are working towards a new lead-free technology. The bad part of it? It costs more and isn’t as reliable. Foreign manufacturers will continue to use the cheaper, easier leaded solder and will slowly erode American superiority with the more reliable hardware.
Damn liberal tree-huggers. They must all hate America.
National Geographic had at least a photoessay on those ship scavengers. Depressing stuff.
I thoughtfully continue to store MY old computers in my basement!
Interesting article. It strikes me that because the manufacture of computers is largely automated in the first place, it ought to be possible to automate the recycling of parts as well, with robots to undo soldering, take out chips, and so forth. This would require redesigning parts at the front end, most probably, and it’s not clear that it would be profitable (in comparison with dumping scrap in a river), but it’s a possibility.
I saw that same show, was it on National Geographic? It really was so fascinating. Huge machines, just slowly deconstructed with plasma torches and brute force.
RSA – Interesting idea, it’s unfortunate that like with so many other things the true cost of computers isn’t the cost on the yellow bubble in the Best Buy ad.
I saw that. It was on DiscoveryHD. I got the pleasure of watching dirt poor Indians die slowly from toxic poisoning in gloriuos detail and clarity, plus surround sound.
China does a monumental amount of reclamation with all the associated health risks to some of its poorest workers.
I recall seeing something about refrigerators from Europe being shipped to some place in Africa where they get stripped or just left to rust. Huge montains of used fridges… Bad both for the local environment and the workers health…
a guy called larry
Geez! I can’t believe you guys can’t see the free market at work here. The unseen hand in it’s glory. The children who dismantle the toxic CRT’s probably suffer more from malaria than lead poisoning. They’re earning an honest living.
Those barefoot shipbreakers chose to do a job that we refuse. The guys who buy the ships to scrap out make lots of money, the guys who risk getting squished get enough money to feed their families. Well, sometimes. But you can’t expect that kind of job to be done here. We’ve got minimum wages, OSHA, all that stuff. Although, if we could get rid of OSHA and EPA, we might be able to put together some kind of welfare-to-work program to help offset some of the outsourcing that’s going on. [/snark full off]
Europe is also moving to lead free solder. So basically the entire world industry will.
One can indeed recycle computers efficiently and effectively with no added pollution. However, rules from the EPA and the like make it impossible to do so. The basic reason is that the lead oxide in CRT glass (about as stable a material as we know of) is regarded as similarly polluting as the lead metal in solder (which is valuable for the tin in it and is thus recycled anyway) which is an entirely stupid state of affairs.
I or anyone else in the metals scrap industry could show you how to recycle computers without sending them to India (or China where most of it goes) if it were not for the absurd rules that the EPA and the like impose.
Similarly, with ship breaking. There’s a yard in the UK specifically set up to handle polluted ships. Got a contract from the US Navy to do several, the local environmental groups went crazy. The cleanest best place on the planet to do the breaking and they created a scare which meant the contract never came off. So they’ll go off to India to kill some more people.
Tim, that article on ship-breaking had a sub-section on an effort in the US to dismantle a ship using environmentally-safe techniques. It was very, very expensive, so much so that only government regulations could force it to be used.