Skip to main content

Amazing Race: E-Waste Violators' Best Friend

Fans of the TV series Amazing Race were treated to a disturbing and disheartening spectacle Sunday night, as competitors used cutters, hammers, screwdrivers, and their bare hands to tear apart electronics, throw them haphazardly into piles, exposing themselves, onlookers, and the environment to dangerous toxins. All this in the name of supposed recycling. Perhaps the show should be renamed Amazing Waste?

The (re) blog from asset recovery firm Redemtech calls the TV show to task for the appalling spectacle, and with good reason. The e-waste travesty was taking place in Vietnam, and the blog points out that many unscrupulous U.S. firms have been using developing nations as their own personal dumping grounds for e-waste.

The blog notes acerbically that what the contestants were throwing around after destroying the electronics

All images from CBS.com.
amazing race 1
included broken fragments of electronics -- everything from circuit boards and wiring to plastic frame -- which either contain such toxins as lead, mercury and cadmium or release poisonous toxins into the air when incinerated.

As for cultural insensitivity, the show apparently had that in spades as well, according to the blog:

As with all Amazing Race challenges, Sunday's episode reflected cultural situations and included local people who demonstrated how the tasks should be done. The people who routinely perform the disassembly of electronics were indeed represented and continued to work -- even though it was clear that they were indigent; sitting barefoot amid all the twisted metal, wearing no gloves or eye protection, no masks or filters to block the inhalation of the dust from the broken electronics.

{related_content}The blog sums up everything wrong with the way contestants handled e-waste in this way:

There is nothing fun or entertaining about the e-waste crisis, and the countries where electronics are dumped by the ton are becoming giant landfills of unwanted toxic materials torn from countless devices. Amazing Race did not show what happens to the piles of broken parts torn from the machines or how they are melted down via primitive methods to extract the metals. The show failed to relate the detrimental long-term health effects of the workers who strip wires for copper with their fingers or melt lead solder from circuit boards so that the toxins are released into the air. The show also did not address how serious the e-waste crisis has become or how it affects everyone around the world.

The blog has it exactly right, and CBS has it exactly wrong. There was a time, decades ago, when CBS was known as the "Tiffany Network" because of the high quality of its news and programming, and because it wouldn't stoop to stunts and tricks in order to attract viewers.

Those days are clearly long behind us. It's bad enough to try and be first in the race to the bottom in order to increase your ratings. But to do it and also encourage dangerous environmental practices is even worse.

For the full story, read the (re) blog. It's absolutely on target.

More on this topic