Our Waste Comes Back To Byte Us

Pile of computer crapA friend of mine pointed out an interesting article over on the National Geographic Magazine website. Entitled High-Tech Trash, it details how so much of our techie junk such as old computers, monitors, and printers wind up in third world countries just trashing up the place. Or, what was really startling to me, that stuff winds up in places like China that reprocess it and then sell it back to us in some other form. Really, read the following excerpt to see what we are doing to ourselves…

Ultimately, shipping e-waste overseas may be no bargain even for the developed world. In 2006, Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a chemist at Ashland University in Ohio, bought some cheap, Chinese-made jewelry at a local dollar store for his class to analyze. That the jewelry contained high amounts of lead was distressing, but hardly a surprise; Chinese-made leaded jewelry is all too commonly marketed in the U.S. More revealing were the amounts of copper and tin alloyed with the lead. As Weidenhamer and his colleague Michael Clement argued in a scientific paper published this past July, the proportions of these metals in some samples suggest their source was leaded solder used in the manufacture of electronic circuit boards.

“The U.S. right now is shipping large quantities of leaded materials to China, and China is the world’s major manufacturing center,” Weidenhamer says. “It’s not all that surprising things are coming full circle and now we’re getting contaminated products back.” In a global economy, out of sight will not stay out of mind for long.

Kind of makes you think that what goes around, comes around doesn’t it? Read the article. I was also interested in the entire section about how a lot of the equipment you and I donate to Goodwill thinking that it will be re-purposed here is sold off in bulk and shipped overseas.

All of this begs the question, what are we supposed to do with all of our old Macs, PCs, and cellphones? Do you have a suggestion?

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