E-Waste Recycling – The Human Cost

E-Waste "Recycling"Today’s electronic devices, computers, laptops, mobile devices, and others, are often obsolete in a matter of months or years. The most affluent nations in the world generate up to fifty million computers each year, and millions more mobile devices and other electronic devices.

E-Waste, or electronic waste, is a growing problem that many municipalities are dealing with, as they leach toxic chemicals when disposed improperly. The obvious solution is recycling, recovering precious metals and reducing pollution, and only 20% of e-waste is recycled properly.

Due to some loopholes in the laws regarding e-waste, the other 80% is shipped off to third-world countries, such as Pakistan, where thousands of the poor, including women and children, are employed. Businesses ship off-shore to low-wage labor, which is been common practice for many industries, but sometimes turn a blind eye to the impact on the low-wage laborers.

Shakila Umair, researcher at KTH Centre for Sustainable Communications, made two field trips to Pakistan to study how e-waste is actually recycled there. For many, this is the only work available, and they make maybe $3 per 12-hour day, working to extract precious metals from circuit boards. Safety precautions are non-existent, such as gloves or masks, which employers won’t buy, and the employees, even if they knew the risks, can’t afford.

Umair doesn’t want to stop e-waste recycling in Pakistan, because many have no other recourse, but wants to see companies become more responsible, saying, “Why not include the conditions of these ‘distant workers’ in the Corporate Social Responsibility policies of global ICT suppliers?”

What can you do about it? Find an e-waste recycler through Basel Action Network [BAN], which certifies recyclers based on their responsible recycling practices. Consulting with BAN can help to make sure your e-waste doesn’t find its way to a third-world country and harm workers or the environment.

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