Beware: Your Firm's E-Waste Could Be Poisoning China

Beware: Your Firm's E-Waste Could Be Poisoning China

One of the thorniest problems with Green IT is what to do with all the computers, monitors, hardware, and other electronics your company no longer needs. You may think that you've solved the problem by choosing a responsible recycler or asset management firm. But according to a recent 60 Minutes segment, that e-waste may end up in unregulated toxic waste dumps in China that foul the land, water, and air, cause cancers and miscarriages, and endanger children.

60 Minutes followed the illegal trail of e-waste from a recycler in Colorado to China. The segment also filmed a toxic waste site in Guiyu, China, which it says is one of the most "toxic places on Earth."

The news magazine calls the city The "Chernobyl of toxic waste," and filmed a massive toxic waste dump, where people manually heated and burned the waste to recover materialsit. The magazine said that people used a "medieval acid recipe" to reclaim gold from the material.

Lead, cadmium, mercury, and chromium are only a few of the toxic materials released from the e-waste. The city, says the magazine, has highest concentratoon of cancer-causing dioxin in world. Seven out of 10 children have too much lead in blood...and that's just the start.

The news magazine quotes experts as saying that 130,000 computers are discarded every day in the United States, and that more than 100 million cell phones are thrown out annually.

Even if your company finds a recycler or asset management firm that says it only disposes of the waste in a clean, state-of-the-art facility in the U.S. that may not be the case. 60 Minutes followed CRT monitors being shipped from the Executive Recycling firm in Englewood, Colorado, to Hong Kong, in what may be a violation of the law. The magazine also quotes a General Accounting Office (GAO) sting operation that made a similar finding. The GAO also found that 42 other U.S. companies were willing to illegally ship e-waste to Hong Kong.

So what can your IT department do, to ensure your waste doesn't end up doing environmental damage? The Basel Action Network (BAN) runs the e-Stewards program, which lists environmentally responsible e-waste recyclers. BAN will soon be extending that program, and will audit the recyclers, to certify that their practices match their promises. It's a good idea to find out whether your recycler or asset management firm is on the list, or uses a firm on the list for recycling.

You can see the entire 60 Minutes segment, below.

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If you want to read the transcript, get it here.