Every once in a while someone upsets our comfortable existence by pointing out inconvenient realities like the problem of what happens to our electronics devices after the manufacturers convince us that we need the latest version of their wonder gadget. Unlike regular household recyclables like glass jars and cardboard cereal boxes, electronic devices contain a lot of valuable material that makes it profitable for reclamation if the work can be performed somewhere nobody really cares about the human costs of doing so. In China, India, Ghana, and many other "developing" countries, poor souls earn an existence by disassembling and performing crude processing of the components to separate heavy metals like gold, silver, lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and others. For their efforts they sell their booty at a pauper's wage.
After removing high value individual components like CPUs and RAM, as in these videos the rest is tossed into a fire to burn away the non-metals. If it is hot enough, the metals melt and drip onto a collection pan below. Wire is stripped of its insulation to yield only the copper or aluminum by burning off the plastic or rubber sheathing. The fumes from insulation often is toxic. Imagine inhaling that crap all day, every day. The level of pollutants leeching into the ground water supply and into the air are severe. From young to old, everyone participates.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency masks the truth about what really happens to your exported e-waste by providing a sanitized version of the process. To wit: "How much e-waste is exported? The information available regarding the amount of used and scrap electronics exported for reuse or recycling is limited. To date, we have only examined export of CRTs."
The government knows about every phone call and credit card purchase you make - utilities, gasoline, food, entertainment, clothing, donations. They track your movement via cellphones, Internet usage, and auto navigation systems. The Fed nowadays inserts itself into every facet of your life and yet it does not know where any type of e-waste other than CRTs - a vanishing problem - ends up? It obviously does not have jurisdiction over other countries' policies, but it can restrict export. With as Hitlerian as the EPA is toward U.S. citizens and companies, the only logical explanation is that the bureaucrats are getting kickback from dealers to not conduct official studies and thereby have "plausible deniability."
Of course if it were not for the existing system, prices would increase significantly. The world's economies would suffer profoundly if the electronics revolution were to be hindered by eliminating the existing disposition methods. Don't think this is just a U.S. problem; all countries participate to some extent. The "greenest" countries merely have a more stringent recycling program for collecting discarded materials, not necessarily guaranteeing that these destructive methods are not the end stage of the recycling. What to do? Darned if I know. Heck, even with the amount of resources spent on educating people about the health hazards of smoking cigarettes we still have new smokers taking their first puffs on a daily basis.
It is a hard call between personal freedom and government mandate. The problem is that there is no such thing as a benevolent government that looks out for the welfare of the population. Evil lurks in the heart of women (just being non-sexist here), so there will always be a willingness to sacrifice some group for the sake of a preferred result. Socialism and Communism, regardless of the initial good intentions, has always resulted in mass murder and discrimination. There is no Utopia on Earth. It is a sad reality.
Well, the Best Buy flyer is showing a sale on iPad 2, so I had better get going...
This collection of video and a few audio files represents files that have been featured on the RF Cafe homepage. Every week or so a new file is added that should be of interest to RF Cafe visitors.
Please send me an e-mail if you have a good subject. Note: "Videos for Engineers" formerly went by the name "Cool Videos."
Posted May 10, 2011