E-waste still causing havoc in the East

A new study from Greenpeace provides a reminder of the terrible toll pollution is taking on the environment surrounding the crude electronics recycling plants of China and India.

The report shows that contamination from a cocktail of chemicals is occurring at every single stage of the recycling process, from storage of e-waste prior to recycling through the multitude of methods including shredding, stripping, dipping and burning used to recover valuable materials.

Levels of a broad spectrum of hazardous heavy metals and organic compounds were catalogued in recycling workshops, nearby soils and watercourses and in the homes of workers and in most cases were found to be hundreds, if not thousands, of times higher than areas where recycling was not taking place.

The chemicals screened for all posed a risk to human health, as well as the environment, and are responsible for myriad problems including brain damage, cancer, respiratory diseases and interfering with sexual development.

Due to the limited scope of the study, its findings simply scratch the surface of a huge problem.

“Although clearly not an exhaustive study of e-waste recycling facilities in either country, the results do provide an illustration of the breadth and scale of health and environmental concerns arising from the industrial sector,” reads the report.

“Both wastes and hazardous chemicals used in the processing are commonly handled with little regard for the health and safety of the workforce or surrounding communities and with no regard for the environment.

“Overall the result is severe contamination of the workplace and adjacent environment with a range of toxic metals and persistent organic contaminants.”

The report goes on to say that while Europe’s WEEE Directive and RoHS go some way to addressing the problem, these and other pieces of legislation cannot be a complete solution as their reach is only regional.

Until manufacturers put environmental responsibility high on their agenda, the contamination will continue.

“In short, this study provides further illustration of the urgent need for manufacturers of electronic good to take responsibility for their products from production through to the end of their lives,” the report concludes.

“As a major contribution towards addressing these problems, manufacturers must develop and design clean products with longer life-spans, that are safe and easy to repair, upgrade and recycle and will not expose workers and the environment to hazardous chemicals.”

By Sam Bond

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