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E-Waste... Just Don't Think About It
Videos for Engineers

Videos for Engineers - RF CafeThis archive links to the many video and audio files that have been featured on RF Cafe.

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E-waste recycling by poverty-stricken people in Ghana, India, and China - RF Cafe

E-waste recycling by poverty-stricken people in Ghana, India, and China

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.

E-Waste Recycling in Ghana

E-Waste Recycling in India

E-Waste Recycling in China

See also Toxic Air from China, The Real Price of Gold, Afghanistan's Buried Riches - Rare Earths & More, E-Waste... Just Don't Think About It



Posted May 3, 2022
(updated from original post on 5/10/2011)

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RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling 2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got Mail" when a new message arrived...

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