Esource: Cycling solution to gadget recycling

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Before you snap up the new iPhone 5, a new Kindle or one of the shiny new Nokia handsets, consider the probable fate of the gadget they will replace.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) estimates that tens of millions of tons of electronic waste, or ewaste, are generated around the world each year. Yet, only about 10% of that is properly recycled, according to the agency. A good proportion of the rest, according the UK-based Electronic Investigation Agency (EIA), ends up being “illegally exported and dumped in developing countries.” These countries, notes a 2011 report from EIA, simply don’t have the capacity to properly recycle this kind of waste.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

That’s because the waste contains tiny, yet valuable, amounts of gold and copper. In fact, in a country such as Ghana, burning computer wires to reclaim the copper is, unfortunately, one of the better-paying jobs a teenager or 20-something can land.

A local businessman hands over the wires to the kids, who take the material to a place like the Agbogbloshie dump near Accra. They set it alight, wait for the plastic coatings to burn off, and then take the copper back to the businessman. Most of that copper is eventually sold to manufacturers in Western Europe, completing a grim kind of recycling.

It comes at great cost to the young kids, and to the environment. As EIA says: “Copper wires are bundled and set alight to remove flame-resistant coatings, emitting toxic dioxins…The potential health consequences for those involved in this kind of work are dire – reproductive and developmental problems, damaged immune, nervous and blood systems, kidney damage and impaired brain development in children.”

The economic reality of the situation is that most of the teams of recyclers are going to carry on what they are doing, no matter what the potential consequences. So, what is needed is a cleaner, healthier way to mine the waste for its valuable elements.

Source: BBC (link opens in a new window)

Environment, Technology