A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham
Jason Koebler reports in Motherboard:
Until recently, I had never really thought about what happens to my old electronics. I took them to a community e-waste recycling drive, or dropped my old phone in a box somewhere, and I assumed my stuff was recycled.
An alarming portion of the time this is not actually the case, according to the results of a project that used GPS trackers to follow e-waste over the course of two years. Forty percent of all US electronics recyclers testers included in the study proved to be complete shams, with our e-waste getting shipped wholesale to landfills in Hong Kong, China, and developing nations in Africa and Asia.
The most important thing to know about the e-waste recycling industry is that it is not free to recycle an old computer or an old CRT television. The value of the raw materials in the vast majority of old electronics is worth less than it costs to actually recycle them. While consumers rarely have to pay e-waste recycling companies to take their old electronics (costs are offset by local tax money or manufacturers fronting the bill as part of a legally mandated obligated recycling quota), companies, governments, and organizations do.
Or at least, in a rational market, your office would have to pay an e-waste recycler to take their old stuff. But an astounding amount of US electronics recyclers will take old machines at no cost or for pennies per pound, then sell them wholesale to scrapyards in developing nations that often employ low-salary laborers to dig out the several components that are worth anything.
Based on the results of a new study from industry watchdog Basel Action Network and MIT, industry documents obtained by Motherboard, and interviews with industry insiders, it’s clear that the e-waste recycling industry is filled with sham operations profiting off of shipping toxic waste to developing nations. Here are the major findings of the study and of my interviews and reporting: . . .