BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 25 February, 2002, 12:36 GMT
Computer dumping 'polluting Asia'
The waste is separating into aluminium, steel, copper, plastic and circuit boards, BBC
Piles of computer waste are found in Guiyu
Old computers are been dumped in Asia where they are releasing toxic materials into the environment, say campaigners.

Everybody knows this is going on, but they are just embarrassed and don't really know what to do about it

Ted Smith, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
A report, called Exporting Harm: The Hi-Tech Trashing Of Asia, details a group of villages in south-eastern China where computers from America are picked apart and strewn along rivers and fields.

The transfer of hazardous waste is restricted by a 1989 treaty known as the Basel Convention, but the United States has not ratified it.

"I've seen a lot of dirty operations in Third World countries, but what was shocking was seeing all this post-consumer waste," said one of the report's authors, Jim Puckett of the Seattle-based Basel Action Network.

By publishing their report, the campaigners hope it will increase the pressure on American companies and politicians to do more to recycle computer waste.

Burning plastics

The report says electronic waste is the most rapidly growing waste problem in the world, with toxic ingredients such as the lead, mercury or cadmium being released into the environment.

The waste is separating into aluminium, steel, copper, plastic and circuit boards, BBC
Truckloads of e-waste are taken for scrapping
The campaigners visited the waste sites in Guiyu, China, in December where people were smashing up machines to scavenge for the precious metals inside.

The report says that workers, with little or no protection against hazardous materials, burned plastics and circuit boards or poured acid on electronic parts to extract silver and gold.

The effect was to fill the air with carcinogenic smoke and pollute the water, said the report.

The campaigners said preliminary investigations in both Pakistan and India had revealed that these countries were also receiving and processing waste electronics from the West.

Problem 'ignored'

The growing amount of computer waste is becoming an increasing problem, with millions of devices becoming obsolete each year as the technology industry produces faster, better and less expensive equipment.

While there are recycling programmes in the US, campaigners say much of the waste electronics finds it way to the developing world.

The report suggested that as much as 80% of the America's electronic waste collected to be recycled is shipped out of the country.

"Everybody knows this is going on, but they are just embarrassed and don't really know what to do about it," said Ted Smith, head of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which also helped prepare the new report.

"They would just prefer to ignore it."

Basel Action Network's Jim Puckett
"It is creating the largest waste problem in the world right now"
See also:

30 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Scaling the electro-scrap mountain
24 Dec 98 | Asia-Pacific
Cambodia investigates new waste dump
13 Jul 01 | UK
New life for old mobiles
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories