Recycling e-waste: Where does it really go? by Fran Stein, PSU Senior Capstone

Obsolete e-waste, used computers and scrap electronic equipment, are recycled properly as to not negatively impact the worlds environment.

ECS processes scrap electronics by shredding and separating the components, ferrous metals (steel), copper and precious metals, aluminum, and plastic. The steel and aluminum are recycled as the metals, the plastic is recycled as plastic, and the copper and precious metals are sampled, prepared, and packaged for shipment to a primary copper smelter.

Products Produced from Electronics Scrap Recycling:
-Copper ingot with precious metals
-Prepared pulps with precious metals
-Granulated electronics with precious metals
-Granulated electronics without precious metals
-Steel-magnetically separated
-Aluminum-eddy current separated


An estimated 50 to 80 percent of all electronic waste "recycled" in the U.S. ends up in Asia.

"While many consumers are led to believe their outdated equipment will be given a new life after being turned in for recycling, most often it winds up on a boat bound for China, India or Pakistan, where is it burned in rice fields or dumped into irrigation canals. The electronic trash, known as e-waste, is left to leach poisonous materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium into water supplies and the atmosphere. Investigators researching the report found waterways and rural fields littered with broken glass, circuit boards and plastic parts".

Source: San Jose Mercury News, Feb 25, 2002 \

China's E-Waste Problem Poisons Children, Destroys Cities

Since the 1980s, cities like Guiyu, China, have been taking in electronic waste from other countries for dismantlement and processing. It's great for other countries, but takes a huge toll on the people managing the effort because of the "metal extraction of circuit boards" and "open dumping of waste and ash residue into open water". It's made the well water and ground water of Guiyu undrinkable, and has to be trucked in from other villages. The lead poisoning level in children is 69%.


UN warning on e-waste 'mountain': Africa

Up to 75% of computers in some shipments are unusable. The world's richest nations are dumping hazardous electronic waste on poor African countries, says the head of the UN's Environment Programme (Unep). Speaking in Nairobi, Achim Steiner said consumerism was driving a "growing mountain of e-waste". Unep estimates that up to 50 million tons of waste from discarded electronic goods is generated annually. Improper disposal of e-waste can release hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment. Mr Steiner made his comments at the opening of a week-long conference in Nairobi which will review the Basel Convention, aimed at reducing the movement of all types of hazardous waste.
"The need for Basel is ever more evident in this globalized world," he said. "Accelerating trade in goods and materials across borders and across continents is one of the defining features of the early 21st Century." Toxic E-waste is thought to be the fastest growing part of municipal waste in the developed world.

1: Lead in cathode ray tube and solder
2: Arsenic in older cathode ray tubes
3: Selenium in circuit boards as power supply rectifier
4: Polybrominated flame retardants in plastic casings, cables and circuit boards
5: Antimony trioxide as flame retardant
6: Cadmium in circuit boards and semiconductors
7: Chromium in steel as corrosion protection
8: Cobalt in steel for structure and magnetivity
9: Mercury in switches and housing

The decreasing cost of replacing computers, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, and the speed with which technology goes out of date, mean there is more and more to be disposed of. Traditionally, much of the waste found its way to Asian countries such as China and India, but tighter regulations means more and more is ending up in Africa. A recent study by the Basel Action Network concludes that a minimum of 100,000 computers a month are entering the Nigerian port of Lagos alone. "If these were good quality, second hand, pieces of equipment this would perhaps be a positive trade of importance for development," said Mr Steiner." But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75% of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct - in other words e-waste. "When these are burnt, a common disposal method, it can release toxic fumes and leach chemicals such as barium and mercury into the soil.