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Most of the world's electronic trash -- especially old computers -- is dumped in the third world countries, resulting severe environmental problems and illnesses among residents. A latest news agency declares that about 80% of the world's electronic trash is imported to Asia every year, and about 90% of which ends up in China (Chandran, 2002). The large amount of electronic trash dumped in Chinese cities has created serious health hazards for residents living across these cities. Although Chinese authorities have listed Guangdong's towns of Guiyu, Longtang and Dali and other areas as the country's major collection and distribution centers for electronic trash, these areas now have become a health hazard. The health problems arise through cathode ray tubes (CRTs), and any device that might hold them. CRTs contain lead and other chemicals that leach from landfills into groundwater. The pollutants are released into the air during burning.
Recently, the European Union has drafted laws to require its computer producers to take the retrieval of used computers into consideration when estimating production costs, however, many computer manufacturers oppose this because it is increasingly considered to increase the costs of the computers and monitors for the consumers. Therefore, the issue revolves around how best to manage the waste disposable problem without increasing the costs of the electronic equipments for the consumers.
One of the oft-touted virtues of the Information Age is that by eliminating paper and streamlining the delivery of goods and services, it will ultimately reveal itself as friendly to the environment. But this notion is hard to square with the sight of all that unwanted hardware in the basement or in third world countries. As a relatively new industry, computer manufacturing should develop a new kind of corporate model, one that takes the inevitability of obsolescence into account and anticipates recycling needs.
Chandran, (2002) states that electronic waste, especially computer monitors and circuit boards are creating big health risk among the resident of the third world countries. As many cash poor countries are permitting developing countries to dump their e-trash in their lands so that they can gain paltry sum of money from the computer manufacturers, and the electronic manufacturers.
According to a recent estimate, between 50 to 80 per cent of the e-trash is collected for recycling from the developed countries and a large part of it ends up in China, India, and Pakistan. Most of this electronic trash contains toxic ingredients such as lead, mercury and cadmium that create occupational and environmental health threats. However, the reports indicate that e-trash that consists of household appliances such as refrigerators and air-conditioners, cellular phones, computer monitors, and computers is growing exponentially by 3 per cent to 5 per cent each year, because of the rapid advancement in technology (Chandran, 2002).
The main health problems are occurring as a result of lead, cadmium, and other chemicals, which are embedded into CRT, circuit boards and may cause kidney, blood and reproductive system health problems.
An international array of environmental groups is incriminating computer makers, along with the United States government, with using Asian nations as a dumping ground for hazardous electronic waste. The groups report that 100,000 poor and migrant workers break apart and process obsolete computers imported chiefly from North America. The operations include the burning of plastics, metals and components such as circuit boards, along with the dumping of CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors, according to the report (Berger, 2004). These operations involve men, women and children toiling under primitive conditions, often unaware of the health and environmental hazards involved. For example, workers in Guiyu use rudimentary tools to extract primary elements from scrapped components: computer circuit boards, lead and tin-based solder for resale, aluminum from printer parts and the copper-heavy yokes of cathode-ray tubes. In the end, a tremendous amount of imported e-waste material and process residues is not recycled but is simply dumped in open fields, along riverbanks, ponds, and wetlands, in rivers and in irrigation ditches. Moreover, the recycling operations often involve young children. The hazardous operations include open burning of plastics and wires, riverbank acid works to extract gold, the melting and burning of soldered circuit boards and the cracking and dumping of cathode ray tubes laden with lead.
A recent report described certain areas of Guiyu that were dedicated to dismantling printers. In those areas, toner cartridges were recycled manually (Markoff, 2002). The finding of a report argues that sediment and water samples taken in the area indicated the presence of high levels of heavy metals of the kind found in computers and other electronic components (Markoff, 2002).
Regulators, corporations and environmental groups around the globe are struggling to decide how to dispose of a seemingly endless supply of PCs and who should be held responsible for keeping tons of hazardous waste out of the environment. Although concerns over discarded computers have been voiced for years, the debate is coming to a head with the threat -- and increasing actuality -- of government action worldwide. State and national governments and environmental groups are pointing to PC makers to take responsibility. But companies argue that computer hardware manufacturers are already competing for ever decreasing slice of the profit and by taking steps to take responsibility for their waste management programs the profit will become even smaller. However, there is growing concern among the third world countries now about banning the dumping of hazardous material unless companies do not take the proper action for disposing the electronic waste (Bartholomew, 2001).
Given such important health issues, government agencies and environmental groups say their main concern is with proper disposal. Once the machines are past the point of being resold in corporate garage sales or donated to charitable groups, that means recycling -- separating the raw materials to be processed for reuse -- and containing hazardous materials. The goal is to find out how to reuse a much higher number of electronic equipments, so that all of the material does not require dumping.
Although major electronics makers have condemned the practice of exporting obsolete PCs, TV sets and other gadgets to locales with lax environmental and worker safety laws, but they do not seem to tackle the problem by themselves, arguing that it would increase the costs of the electronics for the consumers. The arguments that these companies are more concerned in order to increase their profits, they look for cheaper means to dump their waste, especially in the third world countries. For example, it is well-known that many Sony products sold in the United States are made overseas in places such as Malaysia and China, and when those products reach the end of their useful life, they may are sent back to the place of manufacture -- to be handled in environmentally sound ways (Bartholomew, 2001).
Although within the Sony Company, and its suppliers, the standards are very high, but many other manufacturers have found third world countries as their waste dumping ground. For example, between 50% and 80% of the e-waste collected for recycling in the western United States is not recycled domestically, but rather shipped to destinations such as China (Chandran, 2002).
Seeing the resistance of electronic manufacturers, policy makers and environmental groups are finding it hard to alter the decade old practices of dumping waste material in the third countries. As these companies argue that they support recycling efforts, however, they argue that consumers must shoulder a large part of the burden for those initiatives to succeed. Companies such as IBM, Dell Computer and Sony Electronics have recently launched recycling and reuse programs aimed primarily at consumers, and the Electronic Industries Alliance trade group has drafted an initiative on the issue.
The International Association of Electronics Recyclers reports that nine countries already have corporate take back laws for discarded electronics --…[continue]
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