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United States Technology

Report is Critical of US For Dumping E-Waste Overseas 152

coondoggie writes "In what may be the least astonishing news of the day, some major US companies who say they are environmentally recycling electronic waste — aren't. Rather more startling — they are dumping everything from cell phones and old computers to televisions in countries such as China and India where disposal practices are unsafe to people and dangerous to the environment. Controlling the exportation of all of the e-waste plops on the doorstep of the US Environmental Protection Agency which is doing a woeful job, according to a scathing 67-page report issued by the Government Accountability Office today."
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Report is Critical of US For Dumping E-Waste Overseas

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  • by Tyrannicalposter ( 1347903 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:28AM (#25051441)

    Made in China, dumped in China. What's the big deal?

    • by HuguesT ( 84078 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:51AM (#25051561)

      Ruthless exploitation at both ends is the big deal.

      • I'm all for banning trade with China if it fixes this "environmental" issue. Democracies have no business trading with dictatorships anyways.

      • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @06:04AM (#25052195)

        "Ruthless exploitation at both ends is the big deal."

        Ruthless competition is how China moved into being an economic powerhouse. The pollution and body count for the US was pretty high too (and so long ago it is largely forgotten) but that was the price of "progress".

        • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @11:07AM (#25055325) Homepage Journal

          Ruthless competition is how China moved into being an economic powerhouse. The pollution and body count for the US was pretty high too (and so long ago it is largely forgotten) but that was the price of "progress".

          That's the kind of argument that sounds attractive if you don't look too close. But it can be stood on its head with equal justification -- if not more.

          Ruthless exploitation has been a permanent fixture of human civilization, and progress has not been its reliable result. I would argue then that ruthless exploiters are not creators of progress. They're parasites on progress. Exploitation in the time of progress is not something new, it's jut the old exploitation robbing a richer bank.

          The dire predictions of economic disaster and stagnating innovation have not for the most part come true when society has stepped in to regulate abuses like child labor, food adulteration, inhumane treatment of workers. Rather, progress has on the whole accelerated.

          Of course, progressive policies do hurt many exploitative enterprises, but they don't harm innovation. Businesses that require the ability to exploit people or the environment to thrive are fundamentally non-innovative. It's making money the old -- very, very old -- way. First you get some power (in this case capital), and then you look for somebody weaker than you to exploit, either directly or by leaving them holding a very expensive bag.

          You can see the architectural proof of the antiquity of this business model in Europe. You find yourself a nice river valley on a trading route and you build yourself a castle to shake down everybody who wants to pass.

          • Or, since he was talking about the American industrial revolution, which was both a time of incredible innovation and exploitation, you could look at that. You could go one step further and compare it to the situation in China where exploitation and innovation (look at their progress in computing and aerospace) are once again going hand in hand.

            I'm not saying that the correlation between exploitation and innovation is 1 to 1, or any grand argument of the kind you're trying to make, just that instead of t
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Suggested Ammendment:

      "Made in China for the US, dumped in China for the US."

      I don't know. What is the big deal?

      hmmm...Maybe...the 202 billion of electronic exports from china? Sounds like a pretty big deal to me.
      Source: []

      NB: This figure includes information exports, which I assume are a small portion of the total.

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      It's actually all part of our "Give a Chinese kid a free computer" charity. We even toss in a dozen obsolete video cards and a busted monitor for the little guy.
  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @03:44AM (#25051537)

    So the US goes and allows (or perhaps worse, is complicit in allowing) it's corporations to keep up profits by dumping toxic products in other countries, where it kills and maims children (which is well proven) who struggle to live by supplying their lives to people who use them as slave labour to recover valuable materials from the dumped items through lethal practices, such as burning plastic from wire.

    Then some people argue that if the countries allow it, why is that the US's problem?

    And then twenty years later they whine like little babies that they can't understand why the survivors of this situation in those countries hate them so much and want to kill them and everyone else they see as a part of the "Western" world...

    And they can't even blame the CIA this time. US corporations are doing a far more sinister job that the CIA ever did.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's what has become the american way. A bit like when US government sends prisoners to countries that allows torture.

    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @04:50AM (#25051861) Journal

      I don't think morals are that black and white. While on one hand it would be nice if we in the west disposed of our own garbage, I don't think it's our duty to keep anyone else from shooting themselves in the foot. Unless you want to go back to the old (and even worse) "mission to civilize" and "white man's burden" doctrines.

      If China wants to import garbage for some quick cash, it's China's problem alone. They should fix their own laws, if they don't want it to happen.

      There _are_ situations where the west did actual harm, including

      - bribes (we practically created the 3'rd world kleptocracies, by making it so that taking a bribe from the western corporations is the most profitable thing one could do, better than any industry or commerce)

      - military/CIA interventions

      - economic pressures to make some countries destroy their own industry and agriculture (including occasionally to take the same good ol' right-wing measures in a crisis that that would turn a crisis into an all out depression, according to the economics we apply in the west)


      And for that we are rightfully hated.

      But things that they do to themselves for a buck? Why would it be our business to stop them from doing that?

      E.g., the west didn't hold anyone hostage to make them take our garbage. It's stuff that someone there figured out would be a good way to make some bucks. And is probably acclaimed as the great entrepreneur and one of the guys doing something for their economy there.

      E.g., I don't think many western companies take _slaves_ in China, much less India. While I do find that running some of those sweatshops says something about the greedy fucks who moved there just for that, ultimately it's India's and China's job to decide whether that's ok with them or not. They _can_ give minimum wage and maximum hours per week laws if they want to, you know? If they'd rather get dollars than that, why should the west be the one to blame?

      And again in most cases it's not the west who even runs those "slave labour" camps, but some local company who subcontracts for a western company. In most cases the western company can't even control what membranes go into their batteries (see incendiary batteries made in China that have a cheap non-working replacement for the membrane that was supposed to collapse and open the circuit when overheated), or what paint is used on their toys (lead-painted toys made in China ftw), or what glue goes into their beads that are supposed to be wet and stuck to a board and most kids will lick to get wet (replaced by some enterprising Chinese with a toxic and psychoactive glue.) What makes you think that the western company gets much more to say about how a Chinese boss treats Chinese employees at that company?

      Or, as I was saying, are we back to the "mission to civilize" (China, India and everyone else) doctrine from the 19'th century?

      Plus, even if the western corporations didn't directly subcontract to those, they'd still find ways to exploit each other just the same. Whether it's cheap pens or counterfeit watches or farming gold in WoW, they'll _still_ take advantage of the missing legislation to make each other work 90+ hour weeks for a pittance. E.g., I remember an article from some months ago about WoW gold farmers, and those guys were working 12 hour days in essentially a high-tech sweatshops. I don't think any western corporation made them do that. (Blizzard probably would rather they crawl somewhere and die, for example.)

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to play the bullshit card that we're some kind of great benefactors for giving them those crap jobs. I'm not _that_ deluded. But I _am_ saying that ultimately they do most of that exploitation to themselves, and they must find their own way and equilibrium point there. It's their own f-ing country, and it's mostly their own sociopaths not ours doing that to their workers or environment. It's not _our_ job to clean up _their_ act.

      Blaming the west for that, and doubly so trying to

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Things are not as you claim. Ignoring the part about nations, you have some rich people in the east exploiting poor people in the east, and some rich people in the west are also participating. The national lines are arbitrary.

        What's under discussion is a group of powerful people on both sides of the world exploiting the power imbalance they enjoy compared with a group of people in one part of the world.

        Imagine if we had the same conversation about heroin or crack, and said it was none of your business if

        • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:58AM (#25052167) Journal

          Imagine if we had the same conversation about heroin or crack, and said it was none of your business if black people were selling to other black people, as it was "them" doing that exploitation to "themselves"?

          1. Most importantly, that's a bullshit strawman. Laws about drugs are mostly _internal_ laws. E.g., US citizens tell other US citizens what they can't do. Fair enough.

          The only point where it becomes equivalent to what I was saying, is when you start telling another country that they're not allowed to do drugs. It happens too. And there I'll have the same position: fucking leave them alone. It's not your job to dictate world morals. Stick to your own country.

          2. Actually, I'll make an even stronger claim there: why should drugs be my problem in the first place? Most are harmless enough, and there are millions of people doing drugs that haven't harmed anyone as a result.

          And the usual "OMG it's addictive" argument is bull too. We do allow tobacco, which causes some pretty strong physiological addiction. As in, actual brain chemistry changes. Some drugs, e.g., hemp, don't even do that. We allow alcohol, where the withdrawal symptoms can literally _kill_ you. Look up delirium tremmens some day. That's withdrawal syndrome for alcohol addiction.

          And I've worked with people who smoked pot before, and they didn't strike me as the kind that'll get violent or delirious. Now tobacco, _that_ can get funny. You keep me in a meeting for 2-3 hours without my cigarettes, and I hope you don't imagine I can still pay any attention. But somehow my nicotine addiction is considered harmless, while that mellow admin who occasionally does pot is a menace to society. Hmm...

          So unless you also feel a need to tell blacks (or for that matter whites, asians, and everyone else) that they aren't allowed to smoke or drink any more, why _would_ you care about them selling heroine or coke to each other.

          • by kaos07 ( 1113443 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:23AM (#25052601)

            Laws about drugs are mostly _internal_ laws. E.g., US citizens tell other US citizens what they can't do. Fair enough.

            Right, which is why the US never goes into South America and targets drug production and/or manufacturing. And there's definitely no push to eradicate poppy farming in Afghanistan.

            Newsflash - It isn't Columbians and Afghanis doing heroin and cocaine, it's Americans. And it's the US telling those countries what they can and can't do because they don't know how to deal with their own citizens when it comes to drugs.

            • by puto ( 533470 )
              Colombia does not have a u in it.

              As someone who is a dual citizen, I do not know if you have been to Colombia but there is plenty of cocaine use in all parts of society. They tend to hide it well. And they drink and smoke a ton of pot.
      • by IanCal ( 1243022 )

        But things that they do to themselves for a buck? Why would it be our business to stop them from doing that?

        Because we can? Why should anybody who has the ability to help others do so?

        It's not like the workers decided this was what they wanted, large corporations have created a system whereby this is the most profitable thing for suppliers to do. They are complicit as they know what happens with their money. Just because it's legal there doesn't make it right (just as the common line on slashdot is in the vein of "just because it's illegal doesn't make it wrong").

        You're grouping the people suffering with those

        • Because we can? Why should anybody who has the ability to help others do so?

          I think my point had less to do with "helping" and more with the fact that it _is_ a sovereign nation, and it can fix thing itself by legal means, if it doesn't want our crap jobs or our garbage any more.

          Look, we're not talking some puppet banana-republic government there. Both India and China are major nations, who had no problems thumbing their nose at the USA before. They're not doing this because the USA tells them to, because t

    • boo hiss big corporations. why don't you fucking switch off your pc and stop posting on slashdot if it's so terrible, after all that's whats driving the problem.

      or maybe, just maybe these developing countries are going through the same development stages our nations did 100 years ago, when industry was low tech and highly polluting.

  • Over here! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Xtense ( 1075847 )

    Hey there, big computer companies!

    I'll gladly take ANY old computer hardware that still works! Finally a chance to replace that old 8bit ISA graphics card... maybe even the FPU! SWEET!

    • Replace the FPU? You might need a motherboard upgra... oh, no mattter... carry on
    • by RuBLed ( 995686 )
      I've got an extra Turbo button if you need one.
      • I'll be needing the left shift key, as well.

        With a turbo button and a left shift key, I can clean boot to DOS 6.0 so I can run Doom (after a few lowmem and xmms tweaks) at full speed!

        Right. Like I'm the only one who used AOL floppy disks loaded with memory hacks to get Doom running. You all know you did the same thing when you were a kid and sneaker-netted Doom.

        • by TheLink ( 130905 )
          sneakernet Doom?

          We used and a "laplink cable" with parallel ports, and a null modem cable with serial ports so that we could get three machines to play doom coop - the usual back then was two PCs if you didn't have LAN cards.

          I came up with the idea, but I think I was still a bit surprised when it actually worked.

          Of course it wasn't that robust and sometimes the game went out of sync. Worked well enough though ;).
  • Heh... He said "dumping" heh heh.
  • E-Waste Fee Payers? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by michaelhood ( 667393 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @04:05AM (#25051627)

    Does that mean those of us in States like California [] who have payed e-waste fees are owed refunds if they were collected by said companies?

    Every time we purchase an "electronic display", or device containing one, we pay a $6-10 fee. Not much per person, but I'm sure it adds up on the companies responsible for this.

    • Yup, but good luck getting a refund from them. And I'm sure most of that money goes right into the State's coffers.

      I had to pay a disposal fee when I bought a refrigerator, and then I had to pay a dump fee years later to dispose of it.

      • Not to mention retailers. Every time you take a monitor back to Best Buy they get to sell that to a recyclers who then sells the credit for recycling it to the state. Plenty of money for the seller, the disposer, and the state, you got robbed and the third world is still a dumping ground.

  • Well, the stuff starts in China....

    Why cant we just send it back to China?
    esp. considering that they are making all the profits, and taking jobs away from hard working Amerikans!
    • Oh, that's so pathetic. What you are really saying is "Whine, whine, it is so tough now that we are not on top of the heap anymore".

      This is Capitalism - practically an American invention and one that you guys have worked oh so hard to teach the rest of the world for about a century or so. So the Chinese are able to do it better than you; tough shit. You made the rules: anything goes, as long as it means more profit.

  • Storyofstuff (Score:4, Informative)

    by toQDuj ( 806112 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @04:55AM (#25051901) Homepage Journal

    May I invite people to look at the "Story of Stuff"? It's a very well done small movie about the waste economy... []



    • I wish I could mod that film "overrated".

      It is a neat idea, and is very stylish - but its simplifications go way
      too far, making some of the stated "facts" just plain wrong. Some come
      close to conspiration theories.

      The "computer facts" make me cringe.

      Unfortunately, this makes it very attackable even where it is right,
      making it completely worthless to illustrate any kind of point.

      • The computer facts is oversimplified. But the idea is still pretty damn good. That might be the best toxic waste clip I have seen in a while.

  • When I read the headline about the USA 'dumping E-Waste' I thought that it would be a story about people in the USA sending SPAM all around the world.
    • When I read the headline about the USA 'dumping E-Waste' I thought that it would be a story about people in the USA sending SPAM all around the world.

      I think you mean Russia and China sending SPAM all over the world. If most of the spammers actually lived in the US spam would have largely been solved years ago. It's the fact that most of the people engaged in it are doing it across borders from countries less than interested in helping that it continues.

  • by icejai ( 214906 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @05:47AM (#25052127)

    Just saw a mini-documentary on this a couple days ago. Turns out many electronic parts are simply burned to get at the precious metals. []

    Is there any way to get at the metals via shredding and then panning? Any material or mining engineers have any input?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gazzonyx ( 982402 )
      IIRC, this is how the Office Depot tech. recycling thing works. They crush the stuff with large "wheels" with metal "teeth" and then shake and sift out the gold plated stuff (probably heat it to get the gold by itself), glass, PCB, etc. I have no idea how I know this, but I'm fairly sure I read it in their pamphlet (I got a tech-recycling thing going on at work... a day where everyone brings in their old electronics - it's more economical to buy their big box than their small one... I took the pamphlet to
      • Even with shredding operations, of which there are quite a few in North America, the metals eventually end up at a smelter. The best I've seen is using eddy current sorting, but even that still has impurities to be burnt off.
    • Is a good question... Maybe using solvents e/or acids?
      • I hope that was a joke anyway.

        The poisoning from burning circuit boards isn't much worse than the poisoning from dissolving them with acid.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @07:48AM (#25052733) Journal
    That is a LOT of raw resources. There is oil, lead, silver, gold, copper, Lithium, etc. in these. There are a number of expensive raw earth materials. Sending it elsewhere is basically buying raw materials, mixing them, and then sending them to another country. Instead, we would do well to research what it takes to recycle these. If we can extract these for a low costs, then we can keep these material for future use. May sound hookie, but there will probably come a time when it will be expensive or difficult to get certain materials (say a cold war in which the items are located in russia).

    This needs to be turned into an opportunity, not a problem.
    • by Intron ( 870560 )

      The problem is that all of the expensive, useful compounds have been combined into composite materials. The gold is in thin plating, the copper is mostly insulated. Extracting them is either too expensive or too polluting.

      On the other hand, if the cost of recycling was included by law in the original cost, and turning in the equipment to a certified recycler got you back a deposit, then it would result in less e-waste and more easily recycled designs.

  • What, like MySpace?
  • Was I the only /.er that looked at the title and wondered how the contents of my computer's recycle bin was ending up overseas?
  • The Chinese (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 )
    Most of the large and even not so large "recycling" companies in the US are now owned by the Chinese. In addition to shipping e-waste back to China for processing, they are also behind the large stolen copper wire/plumbing industry that's sprung up in the past 3 years.
  • I always dump my e-waste into /dev/null, but I guess that's just me.
  • Anticorporate socialist environmentalist types really are a bunch of whiners. Know what would happen if these things weren't shipped to third-world countries to be destructively recycled? They'd be dumped in landfills, where they'd cause relatively little problem. It just isn't economically feasible (nor even technically feasible in many cases) to cleanly deconstruct them for their raw materials. And in the US you can't do the destructive recycling. So, choose -- do you want recycling, or do you want c
    • Nonsense. You can do clean deconstruction and recycling, and it's being done in many places all over the world. It's just a bit more expensive than dumping the stuff on the lowest bidder.
      And dumping e-waste in landfills does cause relatively little problems... for the next couple of decades. After that, as landfills are closed and forgotten, they deteriorate, and the fun starts when water seeps in.

  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Thursday September 18, 2008 @10:28AM (#25054673) Homepage

    So does that mean the old report on "greenness" [] of various tech companies is wrong? I remember when this came out, and greenpeace merely looked at the companies policies, not what they actually did. Now it looks like the companies were lying. Biiig surprise. Glad I didn't follow that advice.

  • This article is preposterous. We don't dump e-waste in China, they buy it from us!
    They love it, they recycle that stuff and ship it back to us in products they make.
    China used to buy computer monitors from us by the millions, they would take them apart, sort the chassis by brand and model, make a special board to run it when they had enough the same and those would be the new TV sets at Walmart. Recycled tubes.
    Today they sort the plastic by color, regrind it and mold more plastic items.
    They sort
  • There are a number of States in the U.S. that require recycling of normal goods (e.g. aluminum cans, etc.). Some of them truly do recycle the stuff; while a few others (e.g. Michigan) put up a facade about the recycling - you can get a recycling bin and pay another $4/billing period for it, and even have to be careful of what you put in it - just to take it and throw it in the landfill anyway.

    So, either they are actually recycling it, or they are not. No two bits about it.

    I'm not saying they shouldn't
  • We're not forcing our waste on other countries; it wouldn't even be worth our while to pay the shipping costs to get it there. If we want to dump it, we have NO shortage of landfill space here.

    What's actually happening is that companies in those countries are BUYING the waste from us, and THEY are paying to get it shipped there. Once it's there, they sort through for anything valuable, and dump the rest.

    WE are not doing the dumping. If the governments in those countries don't want dumping, they need

  • Think of all the mortgages we're bailing out by not spending those recycling taxes on recycling.

  • They'll keep voting for more recycling taxes until they're actually used for recycling.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.