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Inside the Fake PC Recycling Market 320

Posted by samzenpus
from the put-that-anywhere dept.
snydeq writes "OSNews' Howard Fosdick reports on the fake recycling market — one in which companies exploit cheap shipping, inexpensive labor, and a lack of safety and environmental law to export computers and other e-waste to China and Africa where it is 'recycled' with a complete lack of environmental and safety rules. 'This trade has become a thriving business. Companies called "fake recyclers" approach well-meaning organizations — charities, churches, and community organizations — and offer to hold a Recycling Day. The charity provides publicity, legitimacy, and a parking lot for the event. On the designated day, well-meaning residents drop off their old electronics for recycling. The fake recycler picks it up in their trucks, hauls it away for shipping, and makes money by exporting it to Chinese or African "recycling" centers. Nobody's the wiser,' Fosdick writes. Of course, the international community has, in fact, devised a set of rules to control e-waste disposal under the Basel Conventions, but the US — 'the international 'bad boy' of computer recycling — is one of four countries that have not ratified and do not adhere to these international agreements."
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Inside the Fake PC Recycling Market

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  • Meh (Score:4, Funny)

    by sznupi (719324) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:03PM (#32833324) Homepage

    Market will sort it out.

    • Re:Meh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:07PM (#32833362)

      Market will sort it out.

      umm... not when there is a price distortion due to a negative externality coupled with information asymmetry.

      • Re:Meh (Score:5, Funny)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:10PM (#32833410) Journal
        Shhh. Those are just a commie conspiracy to discredit the Free Market. Any failure by the real world to precisely replicate the predictions of an Econ 101 student with a B or better average is caused by government meddling and could be solved by cutting taxes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          and could be solved by cutting taxes

          Could be? That's Socialist propaganda! It will be solved by cutting taxes!
      • Oh now you're just making words up.
    • by rwa2 (4391) *

      Sarcasm modded Troll?
      I lol'd
      sznupi must not be on a roll.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      Not when the government is involved...

      When you force people to "recycle" their computer equipment, no longer do people really care where it goes so long as they don't have to pay that tax, because of this it opens up a new market for cheap "recyclers" that people will flock to because they are cheap and convenient.
      • by sznupi (719324)

        Ahhh, yes, and you wouldn't like them to have such choice - after all, when forgetting yourself for a moment, you turn out to be hardline Soviet-style "communist" who wishes for legislated monopolies. [slashdot.org]

      • Re:Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by OldeTimeGeek (725417) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:41PM (#32834144)
        As opposed to what? Before people were "forced" to recycle? When old equipment almost always ended up in a landfill or was dumped into the ocean, as New York [nytimes.com] used to do with all of their trash?
        • Re:Meh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:09PM (#32835074)

          The landfills are full. They're overflowing, and it's getting into the groundwater. We're also using much higher amounts of fascinating and previously very expensive toxins such as mercury and chromium in the manufacture of household goods, and creating fascinating and useful toxins such as PCB's (which are mostly outlawed in the US but heavily used in manufacturing in India).

          This isn't merely a "recycling to preserve resources" issue, although copper, gold, platinum, and varous rare earths used in transformers have become increasingly expensive and valuable to recycle. It's a poison control issue, and while humanitarian concerns make it wise to consider the fate of those who handle these toxins, it's also important to remember that they grow food we buy in some of these places, and they will _lie_ aobut the toxin levels of what they sell.

    • Alternatives? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mangu (126918)

      I have been seeing stories like these for several years. Although this situation is clearly undesirable, I have still to see anyone proposing a realistic alternative. The bottom line is doing proper recycling costs money, people do not want to pay.

      To take something apart and separate the elements used in its construction may cost more than putting it together. Who wants to pay twice the price for anything?

      The market pressure is all against any environmentally and safe recycling. The biggest part of most ele

      • Re:Alternatives? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by c6gunner (950153) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:15PM (#32833932)

        Fund more biotech? We've already seen bacteria that evolved to feed on nylon. It should be possible to engineer a strain that can eat fiberglass, plastics, rubber, whatever. Depending on what the byproducts are, you might even be able to harness them to make energy.

        So, ok, I'm not a geneticist, but this seems like a lucrative line of research. I'd be surprised if there aren't already people looking into it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RsG (809189)

          Not sure how well biotech would work for fibreglass. Nylon is hydrocarbon derived, meaning it shares the same basic building blocks as carbon based life, so microorganisms can make use of it. Firbreglass is silicon based. So far as I know, nothing eats that.

          Plus, the fibreglass itself is less of a problem than the lead contaminates. If you could weed out those, then you could probably bury the rest safely. So far as I know, bio-remediation of lead is problematic, since it can't be broken down or render

          • by c6gunner (950153)

            The idea was to break down the fiberglass, which would make it easier to extract the lead. Run the remnants through a centrifuge-type machine or a strainer or whatever, and reuse the lead. However, I didn't realize that fiberglass is silicon based (although it makes sense now that you mention it). You're right, that poses a rather large problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AdamWill (604569)

        It works (for a suitably small value of 'works') elsewhere. There's a recycling levy on all consumer electronics where I live (British Columbia). It gets pretty large for big items - complete computers, big TVs, fridges and the like. Several other countries and territories have them now, too. It's technically illegal to put a defined list of electronics in the municipal waste system any more, you take them to retailers who are obliged to accept them for recycling.

        It's almost a good system. I say 'almost' be

      • Re:Alternatives? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:26PM (#32834010)

        Doesn't make economic sense? Then don't recycle it... yet. Eventually materials used will become harder to come by (this is already happening quickly for numerous rare earth metals) and recycling e-waste will become economically viable.

        Admittedly, this leaves is the (admittedly not at all trivial) question of safe storage in the interim.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by zippthorne (748122)

          Find a spot relatively far from sources of groundwater that people need and put it all in a pile there. Maybe cover it with some dirt to deal with the jaggies and keep it from oxidizing quickly.

          I'm sure that there's a name for this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Khyber (864651)

        "Fiberglass, for instance, is nearly worthless, what could anyone possibly do with the fiberglass from an old circuit board?"

        Shred it and make a new circuit board after de-bonding and a re-deposit in the 'hot' oven.

        "This fiberglass is mixed with small but significant amounts of lead, how would you remove the lead before sending the fiberglass to a landfill?"

        Hi, my name is electromagnetic induction, and today I'll be slowly increasing your temperature to make different materials leach out of you in different

      • Re:Alternatives? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arth1 (260657) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:13AM (#32835514) Homepage Journal

        I have been seeing stories like these for several years. Although this situation is clearly undesirable, I have still to see anyone proposing a realistic alternative. The bottom line is doing proper recycling costs money, people do not want to pay.

        The realistic alternative is to force people to pay.
        Mandatory bottle refunds actually work, despite the dire warnings from the soda and beer industry, and fierce opposition from the reactionary right.
        Similar with wreck deposits on cars. Likewise, when car buyers are forced to pay $500 extra, and get that back when they turn it in, far fewer wrecks will be found at the bottom of a lake with the VIN filed off.

        We have governments and laws precisely because people are selfish bastards who can't be trusted to do the right thing unless forced. We can intellectually agree with many things, but when it comes to putting up, we aren't all that good at it unless forced with an incentive we can't refuse.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CaptainZapp (182233)

        I have been seeing stories like these for several years. Although this situation is clearly undesirable, I have still to see anyone proposing a realistic alternative. The bottom line is doing proper recycling costs money, people do not want to pay

        This is resolved here (Switzerland, and I think the EU too) for ages and very simply too.

        You pay the recycling fee upfront on a device. Say a couple bucks on a mobile phone 10 bucks or such on a laptop.

        This gives you the right to dump the device at any shop (selling such devices) at the end of it's lifecycle.

    • by keeboo (724305)
      snoopy, you overoptimistic dog!
  • No surprise... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:04PM (#32833332) Homepage

    Of course here in my home province, they recently added a ECE tax which is supposed to before recycling home electronics and such. Which means that the money goes right into the coffers. Of course I can never find anywhere to drop off my electronics, except at the same places which already did it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No surprise, the problem is that our country is (over)run by corporations, NOT the citizens, lest we put a stop to this ignorant and greedy behavior. Anything to grease the skids of our corporate assholes, so we don't get it the way of their monopolies and profit making schemes! Fuck the rest of us who don't "get" the bribes, er, lobbyist "gifts for influence." If you disagree, you are probably not a real American anyway, so fuck you too. America is for the people, not asshole corporations. Eventually

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Do what I do and throw in in a ditch or lake. You've already paid for someone to fish it out and dipose of it properly.

  • by clem.dickey (102292) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:06PM (#32833358)

    Pointer to an old 60 Minutes story [cbsnews.com] on just this. The U.S. recycler in question was shocked that his dumpster-full of CRTs ended up in China.

  • For the record (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TwiztidK (1723954) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:10PM (#32833400)
    I held a computer and electronics recycling day in my town. We were able to collect over 50 used computers and many other things. Several of them were refurbished and given to people who could use them, but the majority had to be recycled. We didn't ship them to China or Africa either. I'm sure that there will always be people out there trying to game the system to make a quick buck, but there are a lot of people who are just trying to help out (by reducing "ewaste" in my case).
    • Re:For the record (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:31PM (#32833624)
      If the junk didn't go to China or Africa, where did it go? How can you be sure that whoever you sent the junk to didn't just shove it in a container bound for China or Africa?
      • Re:For the record (Score:5, Informative)

        by TwiztidK (1723954) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:50PM (#32833782)
        It went about 5 miles down the road where me and several volunteers helped disassemble, sort, package, and ship the components to somewhat local refineries to complete the recycling process. None of it even left the tri-state area during the whole process.
        • Re:For the record (Score:5, Interesting)

          by 400_guru (942410) <lbolhuis@frankeni.com> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:58PM (#32835410) Homepage
          I pick up several thousand pounds a year of old computers from my customers. My family and I pull them apart and recycle as much as possible. Batteries, Steel. Copper, Aluminum are the primary money makers. By weight at least 95% gets recycled and once broken down is worth money. Last trip to the local recycler was several hundred dollars US. Some lessons learned from this activity. 1) IBM is the very best at building computers that come apart. Few different fasteners mean fewer tool changes. Most materials also separate quite easily. Even their hard disks come apart quite easily yielding their substantial aluminum content. 2) Compaq was pretty good at this as well. 3) Dell PCs are HORRIBLE to get apart with nothing standard whatever. Every model different, every fastener unique. 4) No matter what the brand, power supplies are the worst. Lots of copper and aluminum in them but also lots of capacitors - the number one contaminate in PCs. 5) There is a lot of labor in proper recycling so once old enough to get a real job the kids lose interest quite quickly. Better design for recycling would make the process much more cost effective.
  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:15PM (#32833460)

    I was talking with one of my friends who works in the oil business. He was going off how the cleaner energy technologies will never really take off while oil is 3-5 times less expensive. And sadly, I have to agree: efforts are, of course, being made but considering the amount of money that could be put towards green energy (or nuclear fission or fusion), it's very half-hearted. Cheaper is better in our society. And that applies to NIMBY projects too. It took about 20 years for people to really come around to attempting to recycle anything on a regular basis. It surprises me not in the least that people are tossing environmental concerns for cash.

    I hope, someday, that we will learn that protecting our natural resources are part of the cost of doing business. Right now we're like a bunch of teenagers wondering how trigonometry is ever going to be useful in our lives. So we're being taught, but we're not really taking it in.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      It took about 20 years for people to really come around to attempting to recycle anything on a regular basis

      A lot of that was legislated.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by khallow (566160)

      I was talking with one of my friends who works in the oil business. He was going off how the cleaner energy technologies will never really take off while oil is 3-5 times less expensive. And sadly, I have to agree: efforts are, of course, being made but considering the amount of money that could be put towards green energy (or nuclear fission or fusion), it's very half-hearted.

      Where's the problem? If oil really is that cheap, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go with "green energy". And I'm unclear why you think insufficient money is being spent on renewable energy research. My take is that it's very ample and we're seeing diminishing returns on investment (for example, more efficient solar cells don't necessarily mean cheaper cost per watt of solar generating capacity).

      I hope, someday, that we will learn that protecting our natural resources are part of the cost of doing business.

      And how much would it cost to "protect our natural resources"? Suppose I chose to pay that cost rath

    1. Pay to pick up and ship computers
    2. ???????
    3. Profit!!!

      So how does one make a profit in this model. I understand that the likea of HP and Dell and Apple might use these fake recycling services as all they need to get material out of the country and have it end up in someone else's landfill. There is no expectation of profit, just minimization of the cost needed to generate good will. But to make a profit?

      I pay for a truck. I pay someone or personally recruit legitimate firms to provide cover. I or one

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by grahamwest (30174)

      Fake-recycler gets hardware donated for free.
      They pay $X in collection costs.
      They pay $Y to ship to China.
      Chinese company pays $X+$Y+$Z to buy the hardware.
      Fake-recycler makes $Z profit.
      Chinese company pays $A to strip hardware to components (copper wire, metal cases, individual chips).
      Chinese company sells components for $X+$Y+$Z+$A+$B to whoever is buying the wire and so on.

      $X probably isn't very much. It's not like it's a delicate operation.
      $Y is low because there are so many otherwise-empty containers g

  • by jcochran (309950) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:21PM (#32833530)

    Given the fine article here, I see that China is one of the bad boys in actually doing bad stuff, yet the http://www.ban.org/country_status/report_card.html [ban.org] web site has China listed as "Excellent". So something seems more than slightly fishy. Reading again, the site merely rates how the countries in question perform lip service to a set of 4 treaties and totally disregards how the countries actually act regards limiting pollution.

    Sorry people, but this is a prime example of actions speaking louder than words.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Well, the reason is that they've signed on, but they don't enforce. It's illegal for them to process in any other manner, it's just not particularly well enforced. Here in WA we've got a law on the books which puts manufacturers on the hook for the cost of recycling the items after they're broken. It works well, all the customer has to do is drop it off at a drop site and the items are recycled. Most of it is done in the US, with only a couple portions being shipped over seas.

      I'm not familiar with how ot
    • by lyinhart (1352173) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:18PM (#32833948)
      Yup. This is why the Basel Conventions, like lots of international "treaties" and orgs (*cough*U.N.*cough*) don't do anything. Countries partake in them just for the sake of international politics and don't follow through on their promises. Nope, the best way to stem the tide of ewaste is by making it more beneficial (i.e. $$$) to recycle things the right way and make electronics that don't contain so many hazardous materials.
    • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @09:07PM (#32834342)

      This is one of the things people usually overlook when bashing America.

      We rarely sign on to treaties and accords and fail to honor them; more often, we fail to sign on yet still follow the rules as if we had.

  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:23PM (#32833538)

    'This trade has become a thriving business. Companies called "fake recyclers" approach well-meaning organizations -- charities, churches, and community organizations -- and offer to hold a Recycling Day. The charity provides publicity, legitimacy, and a parking lot for the event. On the designated day, well-meaning residents

    ...who figure that one big pile of garbage is better than two little piles of garbage, bring in perfectly-functional equipment and sing it with me the next time it comes around on the guitar.

    You can get anything you want at Natalie's Restaurant [slashdot.org]. (The punchline, half a decade later, is that the 21" CRT I salvaged from a dumpster still works, yet I've gone through one LCD monitor due to a failed inverter and a lack of easily-available spare parts since then.)

    The only thing I've noticed in the five years since I wrote that parody is that it's getting increasingly hard to find surplus equipment these days. Product lifecycles are shorter, so consumption isn't reduced. It's sure as hell not getting reused. And it's only getting "recycled" in the sense that it's being dumped into the homes of people so poor that they melt solder off printed circuit boards over an open pit fire.

    Recycling hardware for which you have no further use is a good idea, but if you're going to recycle your old electronics, do some research and find an organization that's doing it right [accrc.org]. ACCRC turns the scrappy scrap into scrap, turns the interesting scrap into art, and the non-scrap into computers that go directly to people in its own neighborhood.

    • Reduction in consumption creates no trash and no need to expend energy to refresh/recycle

      Reuse eliminates the energy required to collect, sort, reform, and resell

      Recycling is only a step better than trash, since the cost of creating the raw materials is not borne, but is offset somewhat by the need for all the reprocessing. It still uses a lot of energy. The biggest advantage is that the materials don't have to be mined.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jackbird (721605)
      Nonprofit Technology Resources [ntrweb.org] in Philly does something similar, without the art. A very worthy organization, and one that I am constantly surprised local geeks haven't heard about.
    • As recently as 3-5 years ago you could go to a hamfest get a reasonably up-to-date laptop computer and save $500-700 from a new computer.

      Now with new laptop with good specs going for $400-500, the margins are gone, so the hamfest guys are selling laptop computers for $300$400. There's no sense in buying used in that case since it has no warranty and will probably be less energy efficient than a new one.

      The issue really is that we're getting so efficient at building new computers that it makes the old stuff

  • Anonymous Coward (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:24PM (#32833544)

    Did the author of this article, just blame the US, for the fact that China and Africa allow their citizens to poison the environment and dump hazardous chemicals into the water ? He should stop buying computer equipment, or call the African government with his complaint.

  • Fake PCs? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DWMorse (1816016) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:27PM (#32833574) Homepage
    Who recycles fake PCs? I've seen them at Ikea and other furniture stores, I suppose most of them ARE cardboard...
  • by JustinRLynn (831164) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:31PM (#32833626)
    (opinion) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The least of which is Recycle.

    People get fooled into thinking they can buy more and reuse less because they practice "feel good" recycling. Recycling at an energy/material loss (such as with paper), is more harmful than simply dumping or incinerating it, partly because of the actual net loss, but also partly because of the smug mindset people enter into. Compare hybrid owners who drive more because they own a hybrid.

    Without "feel good" recycling, people might be more inclined to think about purchases (which comparable food comes in the less reusable less wasteful container), and manufacturers might be more inclined to adjust the market accordingly.

    ~sigh~
    • "Compare hybrid owners who drive more because they own a hybrid"

      Or the hybrid owners who trade a perfectly good car, go $20,000 into debt because the hybrid gets better gas mileage (probably save them *at most* $500/year).

      I wish people would realize the most environmentally friendly car is one that you already own. There's no pollution involved in making the new car, you're not disposing of the old car, and you won't have car payments. What's not to like?

  • http://ban.org/photogallery/index.html [ban.org]

    Look at the human tragedy. Thank God today you don't live like that.

    And it's no one's fault over here, no unsigned treaty, that could create that kind of depravity. Please just for once put down your politics and look a problem square in the eye: China's just got a bad culture and a worse form of government. It's shameful to allow people to live so rotten, period.

    NO, before you get all guilt-ridden and try to heap the blame on "us": shameful, rotten, PERIOD, end of

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:53PM (#32833798)
    One of the reasons these computers are being chucked out is because they can't run the latest software - Linux is just as bad. You have to upgrade the OS to make it secure because after a while, the OS isn't patched for vulnerabilities. ex: I had a machine with RH 8 on it and I wanted to upgrade to Fedora for a more stable release and I couldn't because, the processor being too and lack of memory. I couldn't find any memory for the damn thing - at least reasonably priced (New memory is actually cheaper than the old shit)

    Windows will continue to bloat up and so will Apple's OSes. Why doesn't the Linux community make a nice slim and secure distribution that will run on a 486/586 with only 256M of memory - or less?

    I've been thinking about a non-profit for recycling these machines. Many many poor people could use them.

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:21PM (#32833972) Journal

      Why doesn't the Linux community make a nice slim and secure distribution that will run on a 486/586 with only 256M of memory - or less?

      Some of the lightweight distros, like Peppermint, Puppy Linux, and several XFCE-based distros, would run quite nicely on a 486 with 64MB memory. If you insist on a heavyweight distro like Fedora, you've already made your feature/performance decision, and you haven't chosen performance.

    • by raynet (51803)

      I've been using Debian on my SBC's that have 64MB RAM and 200MHz Cyrix (Pentium compatible) CPU. As long as you don't use bloatware like Firefox, it runs just fine. You could probably run it with 32MB RAM if you manage to enable swap during installation, otherwise the installer causes OOM and kills itself. And then there are the various BSD variants, I am sure some of them still run on 486.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        You are correct sir. I run debian on a Zipit z2. That device only has 32MB of ram, but has a whole desktop OS on it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      There are lot of linux distros sized for something with 256MB of RAM. Mind you no 486 will have that much. I run a full linux desktop environment on a handheld device that only has 32MB of RAM. Either you are trolling or uninformed.

      DSL and puppy are both good choices.
      What kind of memory do you need? If I have it I would be happy to mail it to you.

      I would also be happy to help you find a distro that would suit your needs if this is a genuine interest.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        My email is my username at gmail.com, in case you would prefer to contact me that way.

    • The sad thing is, Linux USED to be Plan B for obsolete computers. Back in the day it was THE OS for running on those old 386/486/Pentiums (non MMX of course) since it was slim (kernel fits on a floppy they say!),fast, and powerful (user management, preemptive 32-bit multitasking... oooh) .
    • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofin AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:11AM (#32835500)
      The sad reality is that honestly, there isn't any market for equipment beyond a certain capacity. Yes there are people with no computers, but they actually don't want 486s, in the developed world it's because a 486 still can't run modern software or provide what they consider a satisfactory experience, in the developing world it's frequently a matter of infrastructure. People with no drinking water and no stable electrical grid don't see 486s with Linux as a solution to their problems and frankly with the glut of PIII/Athlon machines that were long since throw into corporate storage closets there's no point for even the stingiest of non-profits to buy up old 486 for charity because for pennies more they could have machines five times as capable.

      I work in electronics recycling and resale, and frankly we go through this every day looking at old CRTs and PCs that still function, but quite frankly no one wants them, and even if they did the expected lifespan (especially on monitors) is so short that one has to ask the question "We can recycle this responsibly now, or we can send it to someone for 1 year and pray that they'll do the right thing".
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by h4rr4r (612664)

        If you come across IBM type Ms lots of people would like to buy them.

  • Can't be done (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nbauman (624611) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:34PM (#32834092) Homepage Journal

    I don't think PC recycling can be done.

    It takes more work to disassemble a PC than it did to assemble it from those parts in the first place. When you're done, there isn't much of a market for old 128MB RAM chips, 30GB hard drives, 500 MHz motherboards, etc.

    Is there a viable technology that shreds computers with giant steel rollers and sorts the flakes according to material, and sells aluminum flakes, etc. and sells them? Is there a safe heat process? There must be something, since there are companies that claim to provide certified recycling to meet government regulations. But I can't find one. All I can find is stories of third-world dumping.

    It may be safer and better for the environment to dump old PCs in U.S. landfills than to send them to parts unknown for "recycling." We should be able to make landfills that can take appliances with heavy metals and electronic plastics without passing it on to the water supply.

    • Re:Can't be done (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:56PM (#32834250) Journal
      It isn't clear that PC recycling can be done cheaper than just letting expendable kids do it over open fires; but that isn't the same as saying it can't be done.

      Compare your average PC, in terms of metals content, to the sorts of ores that are considered economically viable to extract. Particularly once you consider that somebody with a selection of common screwdrivers, and maybe a prybar, can do substantial material separation mechanically(or, if labor costs bite, shredder + magnets). With either screwdriver work or shredding + electromagnets, most of the steel that went in can be recovered fairly easily. The remaining scrap is, in percentage by weight, substantially richer in things like copper, gold, lead, and tin than many ores that are considered commercially viable.

      The real nuisance is a lot of the plastics. ABS+dyes+possibly plasticisers and other application specific additives isn't worth all that much, Ground fiberglass composites are probably worth even less.. However, with a lot of electronics, both of those will have enough halogenated flame retardants baked in that you can't really safely burn the stuff, and burying it is just an invitation to the local groundwater for any lead you didn't manage to extract.
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Lots of poor folks could buy the computers you are describing, at the right price. A 500Mhz p3 +. 4 128MB ram sticks. would be 512MB total and a 4 30GB drives software raided together all running a lightweight linux distro should be fine for many folks.

  • "fake recycling" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:43PM (#32834150)
    Looked to me like a lot of recycling was going on in the photos. Burning "e-waste" isn't recycling, but the other three pictures showed people in the act of recycling electronic waste. So what makes recycling, "fake" recycling? At a glance, it is recycling in a developing world country where environment laws of developed world countries don't exist or aren't followed, if they do exist.
  • Not to out geek anyone but wasn't this the plot of the "premier" Futurerama on Comedy central last week?
  • by mdmkolbe (944892) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @09:00PM (#32834276)

    The summary says the US is "one of four countries that have not ratified" but the link just lists four notable countries. Scroll down a bit and you will see that they list 15 countries haven't ratified any of the "International Toxics Agreements" (only 15 have ratified all). But is it worse than that since they only list 163 countries when there are 195(*) countries in the world. Assuming the countries they don't list haven't ratified on then that means there are a total of 47 countries that haven't ratified.

    Technically the US is "one of four countries that haven't ratified", but technically it is also one of five countries that haven't ratified, and one of three, one of 12, one of 18 and one of 47 countries that haven't ratified.

    (*) The UN has 192 member countries but excludes Vatican City, Kosovo and Taiwan.

  • I got a lot of old computer parts from the 1990's. Motherfracking Recycling companies near me are a darnned joke and refuse to take tech made before 2002. Then calls me picky and unreasonable when I ask them to take my 90's tech.

    Then some want $50 to haul off a $15 CRT tube monitor that do.

    Any ideas or suggestions? I don't want to throw them in a dumpster and have mercury leaks and all that, I don't want to harm the environment. I don't want to pay $50 a monitor to get rid of them either.

    Are those types of businesses scams and frauds as well? How can I find one to take them for free. The Freecycle group in my area is a joke BTW, get a lot of no shows and then nothing happens and nobody cares.

  • .. in mining, pound for pound.

  • by BUL2294 (1081735) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:19PM (#32834770)
    So why is it such a bad problem for countries that make this stuff to get it back when we (Western countries, not just the US) no longer need/want it? I'm singling out China but not Africa here...

    Let's be fair... I don't want anyone, especially children, being exposed to chemicals involved in e-waste. But I'm of the mindset that if you want to take our jobs away and make a product cheaper than we (Western countries) can make it, then why shouldn't you (China) get it back when we don't want it or it's no longer useful? This treaty basically states that countries that manufacture items get the benefit and profit of manufacture, while incurring little-to-none of the costs of disposal. US landfills have had to deal with e-waste since the early days of radio and TV--most of which were manufactured here...

    To add, I have little sympathy for countries that can't or won't control what they import. Each country is responsible for what comes across its borders. It's not like someone's hiding 2 CRT monitors in the trunk of a car & driving them into China--we're talking about huge shipping containers full of these items. If Chinese officials are too corrupt, unwilling, or inept to stop the flow of e-waste, then they get what they deserve...

    [End of rant...]
  • Must see movie (Score:4, Informative)

    by cjjjer (530715) <cjjjer@hotma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @10:50PM (#32834962)
    If you want a good glimps into the whole recycling of electronics in 3rd world countries check out the movie Manufactured Landscapes [imdb.com]. Some pretty incredible shit...
  • Best Buy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Nick Number (447026) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @10:37AM (#32839840) Homepage Journal

    To elaborate on what an AC already posted [slashdot.org], Best Buy has an electronics recycling program [bestbuy.com] in the US which will take all manner of products, regardless of where they were purchased. Use the drop-down menu on the right to see the rules for your particular state.

    Generally they insist that hard drives be removed from computers -- apparently they don't want the responsibility of dealing with sensitive data. They also charge $10 to take CRTs, but they give you a $10 gift card in return. Say what you will about Best Buy's other practices; this is a very useful program.

    Their standards statement [bestbuy.com] indicates they don't do anything dastardly with the stuff once they collect it. I'd be interested to know if anyone has direct experience with how they deal with it all.

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