Discarded Electronics in China’s Giuyu Raise Safety Concerns

Over the weekend, citizens around the world celebrated Earth Day, and helped “mobilize the Earth” in an international celebration of environmental awareness. However, even with green-mindedness in fashion, there are still places in the world where practicality takes precedence over eco-friendliness. For instance, discarded e-waste in China is raising concern, especially given the lack of safety measures used in recycling, reusing and re-processing of these materials.

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Guiyu, in China’s Guangdong province, is considered to be a graveyard of computers, reports the Shanghai Scrap blog. According to author Adam Minter, the facility is considered a global e-waste hub, and not without reason. Even unused devices from the world’s top brands — including HP, Samsung and Panasonic — find their way here, some even unopened from their original packaging. These are considered defective, of course, but the fact that they make their way here in this state raises questions.

Manufacturers deny their accountability. Samsung, for one, denies involvement in discarding equipment, and says components were made years ago, reports BBC News. And it’s not only finished products that are dumped here in Guiyu. According to Minter, who is developing a book on the global scrap trade, even brands that are fostering eco-friendliness seem to be in the dark as to how these equipment came to be dumped here.

… Guiyu is no longer just a destination for old household and commercial computers no longer wanted by their owners. Rather, it is a destination for unwanted parts and defective materials used in the manufacture of¬†new¬†computers and other electronic equipment, as well as materials returned to manufacturers for warranty repair.

It’s either that, or they have some culpability, given the way they have brushed off inquiries from Minter. “[T]he fact that they’ve declined to answer my questions is weird in itself.”

The dumping itself is not the only concern. E-waste recycling has become a booming bsiness in Guiyu, although the processing of materials may not necessarily be considered safe: “sifting through old gadgets and stripping components that could be re-used and re-sold, burning wires to get copper, using acid baths to extract gold from microchips.”

BBC reports that the soil in the town has become saturated with heavy metals like lead, chromium and tin that the groundwater is now undrinkable, and has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins. Local children are suffering from “an extremely high rate of lead poisoning.”

Samsung has commented on the matter by saying the “boxes were not discarded by Samsung Electronics or by one of Samsung’s recycling partners.” Meanwhile, both Samsung and HP have stressed their commitment to meeting the highest electronic waste management standards.

Another worrying fact here is that most of the e-waste dumped in recycling and reprocessing facilities like Guiyu are increasingly coming from China. American and European e-wastes are declining, while those from Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia are increasingly contributing to the e-waste.

Mr. Minter is still trying to get to the bottom of how these e-wastes are making their way into China, and until we get a definite answer, concerns on the capability of processing e-waste — especially in China — will continue.