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Earth Technology

MIT Study: Only 3.1% of USA Used Electronics "e-Waste" Were Exported 58

retroworks writes "The MIT Materials Systems Laboratory, EU's StEP, and the U.S. National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) have released a study, Quantitative Characterization of Domestic and Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics, that analyses collection and export of obsolete electronics generated in the United States. It is the fifth study to debunk a widely reported statistic that '80 percent' of used electronics are dumped abroad. Last year, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released studies of 279 sea containers, seized as 'e-waste' in African ports of Lagos and Accra, and found 91% of the goods were reused. According to the UN, most of the junk at Chinese and African dumps was generated in African cities (Lagos had 6.9M households with TV in 2007, World Bank). The UNEP study also bolsters African traders claims that used product purchased from nations with strong warranty laws outperform 'affordable' new product imported from Asia. Where did the 'original' widely reported statistic of 80% dumping (see /. slashdot dumping story) originate? Last May, in response to an editorial by Junkyard Planet author Adam Minter in Bloomberg, the source of dumping accusations (Basel Action Network) claimed 'never, ever' to have cited the statistic. The new studies have not slowed USA legislation aimed at banning trade of used electronics for repair, reuse and recycling overseas. This month, the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER.org) announced 13 republicans and 5 democrats had signed on to support the bill 2791 to criminalize exports of non-shredded displays, cell phones, and computers. Interpol announced a new 'Project Eden' targeting African geek importers in November 2013." In related news, First time accepted submitter Accordion Noir writes: "Virginia tech researchers and a team from the US, Canada, and Russia have released a study indicating that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 may have had positive environmental results in fish. Reduced mercury releases from mining in areas effected by the economic disarray in Russia led fish to have lower levels of methyl mercury than those in rivers on the Norwegian border or in Canada, where mining continued."
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MIT Study: Only 3.1% of USA Used Electronics "e-Waste" Were Exported

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  • by Narcocide ( 102829 ) on Monday December 23, 2013 @12:16PM (#45767221) Homepage

    Meanwhile, fully 5% of USA's obsolete electronics remains in my spare room.

    • That can't be true since it's in my storage locker.

      Metal encased Z80A computers will be back in style after North Korea pops the EMP bomb.

    • You jest, but an interesting Slashdot poll would be to guess the weight of all unused electronic equipment within a 50 yard radius of the poster. Another interesting question would be a breakdown on age. I still have an Otrona Attache from the early 80's.... Hey samzenpus ....

    • Does not make sense (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Stellian ( 673475 ) on Monday December 23, 2013 @02:29PM (#45768311)

      criminalize exports of non-shredded displays, cell phones, and computers

      I don't see how this makes sense. Shouldn't they criminalize export of waste (ex.shredded electronics) and allow the export of usable office equipment, Pentium 4 computers and first generation flat panels ? That stuff has a high chance of being reused in Africa, it's market value is much above the lead and tin they contain. Reuse is the best form of recycling: a poor family gets a perfectly usable, 4-5 year old computer at 50$, and no waste is generated. My first computer was a second hand unit imported in Eastern Europe from the West. It cost $90, a month of income for my family, I used it for 5 years and it was the best purchase I have ever made in terms of ROI. I am now a software engineer earning a internationally competitive paycheck.

      What they are doing is destroying usable electronics and exporting THE JUNK. This must be lobbied by the IT industry, it has nothing to do with environmentalism.

      Sure, the second hand computers will eventually end up in the Lagos dump. But so would new ones, after a few more years. So you either deny computers to Africans or you fix the waste management problem. Banning export of USABLE hardware will improve waste problem but massively impact the growth of the African economies, which in turns generates all the other symptoms: bad public finances and public education, corruption, and no environmental policy.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I have the same view as yours. I grew up in east Africa using scrounged electronics parts and used computers. I now live in the US and am happily employed. Destroying usable exports can only have the effect of artificially creating, forcing, 'new consumers' out of youth in similar circumstances to my own. Let people make their choices between buying used parts, parts from the 'west', or parts from 'asia'.

      • I don't see how this makes sense. Shouldn't they criminalize export of waste (ex.shredded electronics) and allow the export of usable office equipment, Pentium 4 computers and first generation flat panels ?

        That's exactly what I was thinking about. Why criminalize reuse, but allow shredded, toxic, useless garbage to pass o'er towards third world countries? I'd like to see reuse and fixit shops popping up in rural Africa where I could get a cold cathode tube or inverter replaced on my LCD.

        The thought of sending reusable second and third-generation computer equipment to poorer nations is no different than where your old t-shirts end up. Everyone needs t-shirts (I think), but not everyone needs computers. Especi

    • That accurately describes my basement. I'm going to have to rent a truck to get rid of all the old computer crap I have, and take it to a proper recycling center.
  • by ddt ( 14627 ) <ddt@davetaylor.name> on Monday December 23, 2013 @12:16PM (#45767227) Homepage

    The interesting thing about this debate is that whoever figures out how to extract elements and useful molecules in a generalized way from any refuse first is going to literally and figuratively be sitting on a gold mine. Countries will jealously guard their garbage as a national resource, and exporting products overseas will make a lot less sense than it does today.

    • The interesting thing about this debate is that whoever figures out how to extract elements and useful molecules in a generalized way from any refuse first is going to literally and figuratively be sitting on a gold mine.

      Assuming that the technology to extract molecules will predate the obsolescence of pure/homogeneous materials.

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday December 23, 2013 @01:31PM (#45767845)
      Recycling is already a much bigger business than most of us think. According to the book Junkyard Planet [amazon.com], recycling currently employs more people in any other industry except agriculture! That amazed me. NPR Fresh Air had a good interview [npr.org] about the book, in which that claim is made (I haven't read the book).
    • I wondered if plasma funaces [wired.com] could ever be used to extract the base elements from trash. Right now they just turn heavier elements into inert 'slag'.

    • by maswan ( 106561 )

      Gernalized way? Not likely. But in this particular setting (electronic scrap), there is plenty of activity. I know these because they make the local news: http://www.boliden.com/Operations/Smelters/E-scrap-project/ [boliden.com] - but there are several competitors to them too. Lots of copper and gold and other metals in electronics that is commercially recyclable given that someone sorts it out and throws the electronics in containers with just electronics.

    • I've been saying this for years. Garbage dumps will be mined in the future. I'm actually surprised that it is (apparently) more profitable to harvest from raw earth than to harvest from these dumps where things are already concentrated. I guess it comes down to the forms the elements come in; natural earth is probably more predictable than the man-made stuff.
    • There are several companies already doing this.

  • Shipping containers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Monday December 23, 2013 @12:23PM (#45767289) Homepage
    I was going to post about how high shipping container rates are, and how it doesn't make sense to export them. But a quick estimate shows that shipping from the US to China is 1/7 the cost of China [worldfreightrates.com] to US (Dalian-Oakland). This is probably the cheapest ocean shipping you can find since the trade between the US and China is so unbalanced. Africa is much more expensive. But you still need rail/truck transport on both ends, and you need to pay the people to process the waste (although not much). I would guess a 40ft container would need at least $3000-5000 of scrap electronics inside before it became worth sending to China. Sending to Africa would probably require a scrap value of at least $8000 since the ocean freight is much more.
  • This article is good, but it misses the boat on the larger issue.

    What process is in place to recycle the used electrons that were powering these devices? These extra electrons have been released into the environment and I have yet to see a study assessing the environmental impact.
  • by Toad-san ( 64810 ) on Monday December 23, 2013 @01:29PM (#45767823)

    That the Basel Action Network disclaimer, that they "never, ever" cited that 80% statistic, was a lie. The link clearly shows that, but not all go to the link.

    Godz, I hate liars.

  • You know there's something rotten when a "recycling" bill is mostly sponsored by Republicans. Probably pork.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"