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The Darker Side of Computer Recycling 314

Makarand writes "We all know that with electronics it is very difficult to be green. We leave our computer waste in the recyle bin lest dangerous chemicals like lead and mercury seep into our landfills. The more dedicated environmentalists make a trip to the local recyling center where they may be asked around to pay around $15-$30 to recycle their old PCs. But guess what -- these 'recyclers' merely ship 50-80% of this stuff overseas. The Mercury News has a report on this ugly side of the PC industry which merely exports the recycling problems instead of solving them."
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The Darker Side of Computer Recycling

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  • by cliffy2000 ( 185461 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:39PM (#4746550) Journal
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Give it to a school. Get the tax rebate.
      • by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:37PM (#4747060) Journal
        The schools don't want it. They buy Dell/IBM/Compaq PCs and have support contracts with those manufacturers. They also would also need to buy a license for Windows XP. Your license is non-transferable. What do they do when your PC's memory goes faulty? Who do they contact for a replacement? The fly-by-night Pricewatch vendor you bought it from? What are they going to use your Pentium 133 for, anyways? They're not going to be doing any physics simulations on it. You want to explain to them why they should make this the lone Linux PC in their entire computer lab? Especially after they see how horribly slow KDE runs with 32MB RAM and a 2MB video card that doesn't have XF86 4.x drivers...
        • The above comment is only too true. I've studied in NY regents and Alberta public schools, and the technology situation truly is sad.

          The tech spending is entirely controlled by the highed level Board of Ed. goons, whose pockets are no doubt well buttered by the computer companies. I don't know what the situation is now, but 5 years ago NY public schools could only buy/accept Macs (I think this was largely for support reasons, and in that case it did make some sense). At least they were thrifty about it - my middle school still used Apple IIs for the word-processing class.

          In Calgary, Alberta it's downright horrible. The schools don't take anything less than Pentium 166s, and put fresh copies of Windows 95 on them. They have huge contracts with Compaq (each school buys a few dozen new PCs a year which it doesn't need) and that Bess censorware company for providing a filtered proxy. Support for anything took literally months, the proxies were incredibly slow, and almost always in a half-broken state. They also ran their central record-keeping systems on NT - these always crashed every couple of weeks (at least the staff got extra coffee breaks.)

          The biggest reason behind this is the inept staff and management public schools have - the only kind they can afford. It's really too bad.

        • The schools don't want it...What are they going to use your Pentium 133 for, anyways?

          In the SF Bay Area you can call Project Infomed [], which will send some poor schlemiel to collect your old Pentium or better computer and even give you a receipt so you can take a tax deduction. We send the donated machines to Cuba, where they are used by healthcare workers to access medical databases and research, locate supplies, communicate etc. Though we have a new license application under review, for the moment the Departments of Commerce, State and Defense won't let us send anything faster than a Pentium 200, since putting that much raw computing power in the hands of Cuban doctors could endanger the security of the Free World. Right now I'd say that the average machine that we are sending is about a Pentium 120 with 32 MB of RAM and a 850 MB hard drive. They will probably continue using these old boxes for many years. So far I believe we have sent about 2,500 computers to the island.

          We can also use anyone who can volunteer a little time to twirl a screwdriver or schlep hardware at our regularly scheduled work sessions in San Jose and Oakland.

      • >Give it to a school. Get the tax rebate.

        Please don't do this unless the machine is good enough to use (and, if it is, why would you give it away?)

        At my college we actually pay $6 per garbage monitor thrown at us to get rid of the trash. If these had come with machines, I bet the bill would be $12 each.

        Thank God we haven't received any mainframes yet...
    • ...chances are I was the buyer. I'm becoming like NASA: buying old hardware in order to be able to run MS-DOS 20 years from now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:39PM (#4746552)
    has a cousin who has some unpleasant health problems from living in a contaminated area where they do a lot of CPU recycling. It's a real disaster -- her cousin could tell you some stories, including the time that she found a piece of circuit board in her dinnertime meal (!).
  • Basement (Score:5, Funny)

    by isorox ( 205688 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:40PM (#4746553) Homepage Journal
    /me turns head and looks at pile of old cases, containing semi-working bits and bobs.

    $30 a piece? Thats more then it'd cost to send them to a random address with no return address on.

    MPAA anyone?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:41PM (#4746565)
    Is how China is using the computers we ship over there!

    It turns out they have a huge cyborg program in the works, and are literally turning their excess population in human/computer hybrids! They saw they Borg on Star Trek and were apparently quite impressed with their efficiency. Watch out! The Chinese Borg Army will be coming very soon!
  • BBC news links (Score:3, Informative)

    by slug359 ( 533109 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:42PM (#4746567) Homepage
    Graphic article/pictures from the BBC:
    article [] and in pictures []
  • by Quasar1999 ( 520073 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:42PM (#4746573) Journal
    Speaking of shipping problems somewhere else... can we ship the RIAA execs there too?
    • Speaking of shipping problems somewhere else... can we ship the RIAA execs there too?

      That's been considered. Unfortunately, it would be a violation of the Geneva Convention, and as such, we as a country would be guilty of war crimes. ;)
  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:42PM (#4746576) Homepage Journal
    We have a problem. It is pollution of our local environment by decomposing (!) computer parts. The solution is to get rid of those parts so that our own environment is not hurt.

    Easiest solution: ship it somewhere else.

    The countries that we ship these things to are HAPPY to take them. It makes them money and it gives them spare computer parts.

    If you think that taking away another country's means of existence is the right thing to do, perhaps it's time to sign up at your local anarchist hovel for the spring trip to the WTO meeting.

    Trade that is welcomed by both parties is not bad. Just because third party interlopers feel the need to stamp and huff about it, it doesn't mean that it should be done away with.
    • by GT_Alias ( 551463 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:07PM (#4746826) I guess you didn't look at this [].

      Happy to take them? I'd wager the general population has zero choice in the matter, it's the people who actually collect and keep the money that are "HAPPY" to make the trade. And its the people who take the money who don't give a damn how much mercury or lead seeps into the same water supply that drinking water is drawn from.

      To make a blanket statement that these country's people are happy to take this junk from us -- for spare parts !?!?! -- is being incredibly ignorant of the problems this "welcomed" trade is causing for the general population.

      • Took a quick look through that BBC article []:
        Investigators from the Basel Action Network (BAN) in the region have seen villagers burning the coating off cables in open fires - certain plastics are known to release highly toxic dioxins and furans when burnt.

        A little education might be helpful. It's great we see this in the newspaper articles, but maybe thost villagers need to understand a little bit more about cables and coating. Sure, we can take on a huge guilt trip for making the poor decision of shipping the stuff there, but many more poor decisions are made by those countries after the computers are received. The blame is shared.

    • No, in fact all it is doing is taking our problem and making it someone elses. I have two degrees in ES [] and have some knowledge on the subject. What happens is we send our old crap over to asia where a bunch of dirt poor people who pick through piles of smashed electronics for the precious metals. These piles are generally uncovered and on top of dirt. The process of smashing the electronics allows rain water to filter through the piles sending a toxic coctail leeching into the ground water. For the priviledge of having their ground water contaminated for centuries, they are paid pennies a day.
      Exporting != solving.
    • Whoever modded the comment above Interesting or Insightful, shame on you. It is one of the funniest comment in the whole article!

      The poster shows masterful command of the irony, satire and sarcasm.

      In his first phrases he introduces us to the problem and to the ironical solution: "We have problem, the solution is to ship it somewhere else" (he is clearly aware that any of us here in Slashdot, bright sons and daughters of the information revolution, knows that in a closed system there is no somewhere else - he knows that when the king ships Hamlet to England the Bard is just using a dramatic device to make the play last a little bit longer).

      Then he goes all the way to fine sarcasm: "The peasants over there will be HAPPY to have our junk" (we all know too that no one will be happy with heavy metal poisoning the drinking water and the soil for centuries - less obvious but still in context is the fact that the peasants over there may be poor but they are not stupid).

      The he insults the reader calling him/her a no-good WTO anarchist - imagine interfering with such an act of christian charity. And making room for more laughs, he states that our poisonous junk is the mean of existence (albeit short) of someone else.

      If I had to criticise something in the post, I would say he stopped too soon. He leaves untouched the whole matter of sending our nuclear waste to the same peasants, maybe telling showing them how to make fake jewelery that glows in the dark - wouldn't that be hilarious?

      All things considered, the moderators lost a precious opportunity to give the poster his highly deserved Funny points. A real shame.
    • by eyeb1 ( 522766 )

      Your solution has a name ..

      It's called "Phantom Genocide" .. this is when/what ..

      An economic imperialism does as one of the methods used to solve it's biggest strategic problem "population control in third world countries"

      Henery Kissinger:
      " Reduction of the rate of population in these states is a matter of vital US national security" [Natinal Security Memorandum, MSN 200]

      You get to "kill two birds with one stone" ..

      You get to ship "YOUR" environmental pollution problem to "someone" else to deal with .. (as part of the New Deal .. or is that the "New World Order" - Daddy Bush) .. if it's and environmental problem here .. it's and even bigger problem there .. as they are ill equipped to deal with the toxic and hazardous materials .. and as most indigenous populations .. often very naive about the dangers posed by these materials ..

      What do you think the life expectancy is of someone who processes mercury, lead, zinc, etc. by hand ..

      And as a side effect you get a secondary kill rate .. By poisoning the rural indigenous population because they .. unlike industrial countries are still taking their drinking water primarily from the very rivers and groundwater that the hazmat's are leaching into ..

      "without the knowledge of it's people"

      From the complete verbatim transcript of a broadcast of "Network 23"
      A program shown on a local Los Angeles Public Access Cable Channel.

      " Henery Kissinger wrote in a top secret document -
      a National Security Memorandum ("MSN 200") - in which he indicated that " depopulation should be the highest priority of US foreign policy towards the Third World." This Memorandum which can be obtained from the Us National Archives, (that is as long as you are able to access them) which was only declassified very quietly in 1990, was adopted by the National Security Council as official US foreign policy towards the Third World. Now, this is a classic example of the "secret government" in action, because of none of this was know to the Congress, and certainly, it was not known to the American people. Did any of you know that for the past 20 years, depopulation has been the highest long-range priority of US foreign policy towards the Third World? No you didn't, because it was classified - it was a secret. "

  • by taliver ( 174409 )
    How ironic is that?
    • More irony (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The editor of that paper's favorite writer is Hg Wells
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, we recycle PC's sir! *Takes old 486 DX2, reformats, slaps win 3.1x back on it, and slaps "$39.99 starter computer!" on it.*
  • We exploit them to create these devices and pollute their country when we are finished with them. I really despise what the world has become, despite all the wonderful advances we have made. I hope this is just a speedbump in our progress as human beings.
  • reduce REUSE recycle (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    After trolling my local recycling drive, I came away with a 19" Dell monitor, a couple PII laptops, and other juicy stuff.

    There were even a few resellers picking through the scrap as well.

    One man's trash...
  • by tps12 ( 105590 )
    This is pretty heinous, if you ask me. Any time a business takes your money in exchange for some service and then doesn't follow through, an injustice is done. While this doesn't compare to that crematorium owner in Georgia who just dumped bodies in the woods, it is something to be upset over.

    It's a great irony, though, that what is eventually done with these recycled computers is much "greener" than actually recycling them would be. Computer equipment is made from minerals and rare Earth metals such as silicon, glass, and copper, not to mention metal for cases. Recycling them involves separating and molding them into new shapes, which is an involved and energy-demanding process that necessarily creates pollution. The raw materials to build these goods from scratch, however, are often mined from the ground, and if the used products are placed in landfills, that's exactly to where they'll return.

    While it's atrocious that companies should mislead their customers like this, I'm thankful that in this case the Earth is the greatest beneficiary.
  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:46PM (#4746620) Homepage Journal
    I remember reading about this here in August [].

    - A.P.
    • IMI it's worth repeating, because it seems we read about it, post comments about how companies are evil, how we shouldn't be doing something like that, how we should do something to stop it and... oh the new LOTR trailer is there!!!
  • by EvilCabbage ( 589836 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:46PM (#4746633) Homepage
    .. but what is?

    What can we do to eliminate the problem, or, at the very least, tone the issue down a little?

    The hardware in question is either too far beyond repair, or to old to serve a useful purpose, so is it best to approach this from a toxic waste disposal point of view, slap an extra $100 onto the cost of your new PC, and treat old computing gear like medical/chemical waste?
  • by Flamesplash ( 469287 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:47PM (#4746635) Homepage Journal
    I've always said we should just pack our garbage into a missile and fire it at the sun, and it seems like an even better solution now.

    Some may say that the problems of the missile exploding and reigning fire and computers upon people is bad, but just think about it. If that thing explodes over your neighborhood. BAM! Computers for everone on the block.
  • by pgrote ( 68235 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:47PM (#4746636) Homepage
    Nothing has changed since the last time this was brought up or the time before that.

    People need to understand that the countries that these parts are shipped to either A) Want them. B) Don't care about the damage they do.

    I read the article, but there are no new insights into this at all. Take this quote for instance:

    "``I don't know yet if I like this work,'' said Li, 30, who had been on the job about one month. ``But back home there are no jobs. There is no money. There is nothing to do.''"

    That is the plain and simple truth to this. There is a market for this crud. They are making money by doing it. Is it the most healthy way of doing it? More than likely not, but it is a way to make money.

    Someone needs to publish that link about the place in India that takes apart oil tankers. Big Karma boost in that.
  • He does have a few good points about the polution. However he is very wrong about the 17 cents an hour worker. That is a good paying job for that region of the world.

    If you work in Hickville, IA and get $35,000 a year that is a good paying job. Get that much in Cali and you are very near poverty. It is all a matter of cost of living per region. C'mon guys this is basic economics.

  • by drmofe ( 523606 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @07:50PM (#4746662)

    Here's another part of the problem: []

    Incremental upgrading is part of the drive that keeps the marketing-PR-coup of Moore's Law running.

    I just finished a book chapter entitled "The Leapfrog Effect" that details some of the ways in which developing nations HAVE to run their technology into the ground before upgrading. They can't afford to make the incremental steps. In fact, as it turns out, neither can the so-called "developed world" - they just hide many of the true costs.

    Upgrade when you have to, not just because you are bored and there's a new game out that needs incrementally better hardware.


    "The Leapfrog Effect" is a chapter in: Managing Globally with Information Technology (Sherif Kamel, ed). IDEA Group Publishing (in press)

  • In rural areas, I know alot of people that get truckloads of 486's and such, and then network them together running open source Unices.

    With 3 486's and some RAM, it is easier than you think to put together a lightning fast X server and workstation. These machines can do real work...

    Perhaps the emphasis should be on re-use before shifting to recycle. There are upstart geeks all over the place that have no money... and in other news Mr Smith just threw out a Pentuim I PC, or a Mac Quadra....

  • Give them away (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hanji ( 626246 )
    I usually just give my old computers away somewhere -- what us geeks consider horribly slow and outdated can still be very useful to other people who can't afford/don't need state-of-the-art machines. What they do with them one they truely die, I don't know.
  • I must be dreaming.

    The person responsible for that word should be electrocuted right now.

    Oh well, at least I know how to call that stuff in the recycle bin on my desktop.
  • ...and whether it's batteries in Bangalore or PC's in Punguyng, the 3rd world is paying the price for our conspicuous consumption. This story has been battered around before, and I'm afraid it's just not news any longer.
  • Instead of recycling your old pc hardware, donate [] it instead through the World Computer Exchange []. Hardware donations are a real boon to the people (especially children) of third world countries. Projects like the Goa Schools Computers Projects [] and the Digital Equalizer Initiative [] help provide the less fortunate w/such hardware and train them to use it, too. The DEI also accepts donations [].
    • Sorry I forgot to include a description of just what they do. From the WCE website:

      "World Computer Exchange (WCE) is a global nonprofit organization committed to helping the world's poorest youth bridge the disturbing global divides in information, technology and understanding. WCE does this by keeping donated PCs, Macs, and Laptops out of landfills and giving them new life connecting youth to the Internet in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. WCE leverages the resources of businesses, strategic allies, volunteers, schools, and their community service programs to help WCE partners to prepare and train the schools, teachers, and students they recruit to use the Internet as a bridge to information, resources, educational materials, and new opportunities."

      The DEI is one of the subprojects:

      "The Digital Equalizer Project is a project to bring together US and Indian organizations working to promote the use of Information &Communications Technology in India."

  • Interesting anecdote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by no_such_user ( 196771 ) <jd-slashdot-2007 ...> on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:11PM (#4746854)
    I called Dell a few days ago looking to get pricing information. It turns out, with their low-end offering in the Dimension line, you can choose Wordperfect Office, MS Office SBE, or MS Office Pro -- bt not MS Works. On a low-end PC. WTF?

    So I called Dell, asking if they could override this and somehow install Works. The rep said: "No." I said "No big deal I guess. I have Office 97 Pro from an old PC which I can install instead." This got him revved up.

    Rep: "Well, sir, that's not legal."

    Even after explaining that I bought this product at a retail store, and told him that the old PC was being tossed because it was no longer working, I could hear that he still wanted to lecture me.

    So I reiterated, "I'm literally throwing out this computer because it doesn't work -- my license therefore is unused, and I can install it on my new PC, right?"

    Rep: "That's illegal. Throwing away a PC is illegal. You might be able to see if someone would take it for parts if you gave them $30 or $40, but you can't just throw it away. You might be able to ask the manufacturer to take it back."

    I did know this already, and had planned to bring it to my local waste facility for recycling.

    But here's the punchline...

    Me: "It's a Dell. Will you take it back?"
    Rep: "No."

    • We need a +1 (Sad) moderation.

    • We have 'big trash day' in our city, they even take simi-hazardous items like old freezers and water heaters....

      Once a year they even take old oil and other truely hazardous things....

      What's the difference in an old PC?.. Besides licensing issues...

    • So I called Dell, asking if they could override this and somehow install Works. The rep said: "No." I said "No big deal I guess. I have Office 97 Pro from an old PC which I can install instead." This got him revved up.

      Rep: "Well, sir, that's not legal."

      Gawd I love the brainwashing they get :-)

      me? I install linux on it, and GIVE it to a teenager that is poor and cant afford a computer but is very interested. A pentiumII 350 is plenty fast to run KDE (gnome... no unless you remove the bloat that is nautilus) and they get a FULL development platform where they can tinker and learn.

      It's great. and I have given away 4 PC's to date that way. the first teen I gave one to.. he went off to college to learn Computer Science...
      • A friend of mine worked for a "dot com" sort of company a while back. They replaced machines after two or three years and PAID another company to pick them up for recycling. Of course, if employees took them before the recycler showed up they were quite happy. I wound up with quite a few of their hand-me-downs through my buddy. Did I need all of them? No. Did I use all of them? No. What I did was put them together into usable, stable machines and give them to friends who didn't have computers. Most of those boxes and laptops are still in use... yeah, they're PI and PII machines, but for most non-gamers that's plenty.
    • ...whether the software can be separated from the hardware depends on the licensing. On eBay you now have to get an old drive or motherboard in order to buy bundled stuff like DOS. Think of it as a crippled license.

      However, if you destroy the old machine, you ought to be able to use the software elsewhere, on one machine. But who knows what wacky terms might be in your license?

      As a practical matter you're not going to get caught. Just don't tell anyone.... :) Er, seriously, I would never violate a MS license, nor counsel you to do so, so MS lurkers -- go sue someone else....

      P.S. Don't forget to swing by the store to tell that Dell salesperson what he can do with your old CPU. Dude! Get a Dell! My ass.
    • by Forkenhoppen ( 16574 ) on Monday November 25, 2002 @12:06AM (#4748426)
      Put the old floppy drive or a stick of ram from the old machine into the new one. Install your copy on the "same upgraded" machine. Remove the floppy/stick of ram to "complete" the upgrade.

      Tada. Legal carry-over of licence to the.. uh.. same machine. ;)

      IANAL.. blah blah blah..
  • by bedessen ( 411686 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:13PM (#4746868) Journal
    This meme seems to come up every so often on slashdot. For previous discussions, take your pick:

    Unintended Results From U.S. Hardware Dumps In Asia [2/25/02] []

    China Bans U.S. Electronic Scrap [6/1/02] []

    Recycling The First World, in the Third [8/23/02] []

    I seem to recall all of these had the usual accompanying photojournalism showing women picking through bushels of desolderied TTL gates and such.

    (I'm not saying this is a dupe, I'm just pointing out previous discussions.)

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:13PM (#4746870) Journal
    I'm not in the least bit surprised, having read a few court transcripts of cases against recycling firms.

    Make no mistake, waste disposal is about big bucks. For many materials such as chemical waste, waste oil, contaminated soil, and manufactured products such as computers, batteries and cars, the costs for recycling are enormous. Consumers, governments and environmentally-conscious firms know this, but are still often willing to pay the hefty disposal fees.

    Enter the recycling company. They'll take your toxic waste in exchange for your dollars... and now they have a choice. They can actually dispose of the waste properly while making a small profit, or just dump it somewhere and make a ton of money. So, the oil ends up in the sea, the chemicals are dumped somewhere in Poland, the contaminated soil is diluted with good soil and used in horse riding arena's. The computers end up in China where the valuable items are salvaged by less-than-clean methods.

    With the great anounts of money to be made in recycling by sweeping waste under the rug, it is no surprise criminal organisations have taken an interest, and are at least partly involved in a number of recycling firms. In Holland, reputed to be an environmentally conscious country, none of the larger recycling firms has clean hands, and have used any and all of the above methods to cheaply get rid of waste. It's not just the computers, people.
  • The reason why these countries take the waste and dispose of it poorly may be a little less obvious than you might think. The first step in economic growth and prosperity for a country like China (or Bangladesh for that matter) is agricultural production. They will make cotton and clothing, or wheat and grains. They can do this cheaper than anyone else because their labour costs are low. They export it to rich countries and that money they receive increases their standards of living.

    Unfotunately the US (and Europe) is preventing the poorest nations on earth from entering the Agricultural market (remember agricultural export is the first step to development) because they have MASSSIVE subsidies on farm products and clothing.

    Taking waste from industrialised nations will be the next big export (in effect) for these countries as they have been prevented from making a sustainable living in agriculture. We are driving them to accept our waste because we are protecting inefficient local industries.

    An important thing to note here. I think the WTO is a good thing! The WTO is all about stopping these stupid agricultural sibsidies, so that countries like China can export their goods to the world. In turn that will mean they won't take our waste (because they won't need to). In the end that will force us to deal with our own waste problems! Unfortunately (AGAIN) the US and Europe talk about free trade only when it is in their best interests. When they realise that subsidies only hurt the poorest nations, and adjust their local industries accordingly, the world we be much better for these poor nations. The suffereing in the US and Europe will only be temporary. A few farmers will either need to improve the way they work to be MORE COPETITIVE or find a new career. This really is only a short term problem.

    An example of a country doing the right thing in this area is Australia. They have come out this month and said they will abolish subsidies on imports from the 50 poorest nations on earth. At the same time local recylcing [] of things like IT equipment is starting to happen.

    Some of the consequences is they are paying sugar farmers to change industries. Get out of the sugar industry. "We are not competitive. There is too much sugar in the world." The farmers get payed to find a new career.

    Hang on a minute... this can be a Win-Win situation !!!
    • Of course, this is all based on the fallacy that a nation REQUIRES an export driven economy to prosper, which is ludicrous. How did the United States or Australia for that matter prosper when they never have relied on agricultural exports as a foundation of their economy? The south had cotton and tobacco yes, but the north got by pretty well eating their own damn food.

      It is an absolute MYTH that trade is a necessary part of a thriving economy. People need to create value locally. They can build better houses, create better laws, mine locally... They don't need us anymore than we need them, which in our case in the United States is not at all. We have always supplied our own people with all the food they need in abundance. The only reason we export food is because we produce so much.

      We subsidize our farmers because we want to protect the agricultural way of life, and to insure we do not become reliant on a foreign source of food. There is nothing more damaging to a nation than to become dependent on a foregin source of key resources. If you think oil is a problem, food is much worse.

      What you miss is these countries are poor because they have no system of justice or property rights. No one bothers doing anything like large scale agriculture or any other economic activity because there is no inscentive. These countries are subsistance farmers or they grow REAL cash crops like coca or the opium poppy. Everything else just isn't worth it. Most crops require careful cultivation and investment in the land to grow enough to make a profit. This investment is not feasible when a virtual anarchy exists.

      Personally, I wish there were far fewer people in the world so the United States could become an agricultural economy again. I would join the Amish in a heartbeat if they didn't believe in god. I don't want to buy anyone elses shit, and I don't want to sell any of my shit. The world used to be that way, before this corporate fascist system of capitalism was implimented by the rich industrialists and their progressive puppets around the turn of the century. Now we are all just slaves, spending half our productive lives going through indoctrination in schools before we become employees in the system we call the global economy. I want my own life, my own future. I don't want to answer to anyone, and I don't want anyone to answer to me. It used to be this way...
      • by Goonie ( 8651 )
        How did the United States or Australia for that matter prosper when they never have relied on agricultural exports as a foundation of their economy?

        Oh, please. I don't know enough about early US history, but I certainly know enough about early Australian history to be able to tell that in Australia's case that's complete and utter crap.

        Australia basically remained a prison colony until one British officer figured out that Australia was a damn good place to raise sheep and grow high-quality wool. The next big discovery was that there was a crapload of gold in various parts of Australia, which brought in a huge wave of immigrants. Many of those went into farming after the initial gold boom ended.

        Australia's exports are still concentrated around agriculture and mining. The latest boom export industry? Wine. The biggest issue in negotiations on a free trade deal with the US? US agricultural protectionism. Trust me, agricultural exports are *vital* to Australia.

  • by stevejsmith ( 614145 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:36PM (#4747058) Homepage
    I'd take any old computer! As long as it's a 486 or higher, it's still useful. Especially to a geek! Or give it to your child. Or just put it somewhere and use it as a typewriter. Or a print server. Or a regular ol' server. Or a file server. Or a router. Or a dildo. Er...maybe not the last one...but you catch my drift.
    • I'd take any old computer! As long as it's a 486 or higher, it's still useful. Especially to a geek! Or give it to your child. Or just put it somewhere and use it as a typewriter. Or a print server. Or a regular ol' server. Or a file server. Or a router. Or a dildo. Er...maybe not the last one...but you catch my drift.

      I just had another hard drive fail this week. It won't spin up. Probably due to the faulty power supply, which I also had to replace. Of course I won't be throwing out an entire PC, but I will be getting rid of some components.

      "As long as it's a 486 or higher" - what if it's not?
  • I mean, one guy's recycling problem is another guy's Can you imagine.. MOSIX cluster.
  • by Ryu2 ( 89645 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @08:46PM (#4747118) Homepage Journal
    I'm not an engineer, so this is an honest question... are there any substitutes for the toxins that go into PCs, like lead, mercury, etc?

    If there are, perhaps we should be using those environmentally safer alternatives, even though they may cost more initially? Just like we've removed lead from our gasoline, maybe it's time we figured out how to remove lead and other toxins from our PCs.
  • In Sault Ste. Marie, ON (Canada), we (Clean North []) run a computer recycling event twice per year. We accept old components from the community (businesses, individuals, government) and charge them $1CDN (about 5 cents US) to take it. We get as much running as we can to give to other charities, or use for ourselves (we have an environmental resource room on the main street in town), as well as sell on the day of the event.

    Anything else goes on a truck bound for southern Ontario, where we have an arrangement with a recycler to accept our shipment, and reclaim as much of the metal and plastic as possible.

    This is the third story I have read about exporting the problem of dealing with this waste, however, those recyclers that we have dealt with in Southern Ontario have been most accomodating about telling us exactly what happens to the materials. At times, we have even had them pay the shipping.

    Our last event was in October, and you can read about it [] on our web site.

  • Problem 1: PC/MAC lifespan is too short. Why not make computers so easy to upgrade that any grandma could do it without feeling intimidated. We're almost at that point now, why not promote this as a way to to reduce computing costs? Guess what?...most people aren't gamers and they don't want to fiddle too much with the hardware, but if they were convinced that it was easy and cheap to upgrade their current computer they probably would.

    Problem 2: Computer manufaucters should be responsible for making computers more recycle friendly. Start an organization that makes computer product recycling standards and promote those eco friendly products.

    Problem 3: Software that is not upgrade friendly (you know...those guys from Redmond). Boycott software manufacturers that aren't upgrade friendly or won't let you legally move your existing software from one machine to another.
  • Junking old computers is not the way to recycle them. A computer is only as obsolete as the software it runs. Here's some examples of how I have recycled old computers..

    2 386DX DNS servers

    5 386-486 thin clients using a multitude of different thin client/diskless node configurations. PXES [] is a great distro for this type of use.

    1 486DX Laptop + Trinux [] (Awesome network trouble shooting/ consoling tool)

    1 100Mhz Pentium Sound server (just winamp + VNC + a soundcard)

    I'm sure there's tons of other uses I haven't touched on, if you can think of any let me know! It might make a good ask slashdot article :)
  • by Zeddicus_Z ( 214454 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:32PM (#4747435) Homepage
    I see a lot of mis-guided and mis-informed posts on this subject. Not surprising really, since the waste 'recyclers' don't exactly advertise their business practices.

    1) In most cases, the countries involved in importing PC waste *do not* ask for it. Recent case-in-point being China, which after banning the import of US PC waste *still* cops both US and non-US PC waste. The people don't want it*, the government doesn't want it. But the businesses can make a f*#ckload of money doing it, so it continues.

    2) One previous poster has pointed out that the Chinese people *want* the waste dumps to continue, so that they may work. To which I say, "utter bullshit". If you're a techie and, because of the economic climate are forced to work as a dish pig in the local diner, does that mean that you *want* to work there? No. You work there because *that's all there is!* It's the same with the people in China and other 3rd/2nd-world countries who panhandle our old 286 motherboards in corrosive acid for the tiny amounts of gold on the traces.

    3) For anyone who thinks putting this crap in landfil is a *good* solution (like one previous poster) - lead, arsenic and other chemicals that remain on PCBs and other PC parts can *kill* you. If you don't believe me, try regularly eating old-paint flakes that contain lead.

    4) To all the people who cite refurbishment of old PC parts, networked clusters and the like: You must look at the entire energy chain before you can assert that refurbishment of old equipment is better than replacing with new. Five networked 486's are all going to need power. They're all going to give off at least some amount of ozone. Basically, they're all going to pollute when running. Compare this to the pollution and energy usage of the single Athlon 1GHz you would have replaced it with, combined with the energy cost and pollution generated by recycling the old machines properly. Once you have your result (and you better use a proper equation, not just some approximations), THEN you can talk about refurbishment being more environmentally friendly than proper recycling.
  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:33PM (#4747442) Homepage Journal
    I've pointed out the population explosion in the bay area many times, every time I bring that point up I get modded into oblivion... But fuck it, I got karma to burn...

    First let me explain why I'm an expert on this. My family has lived in san jose since 1901, we started out here as immigrant sicilian ranchers, and over the years went from being just the fruitpickers to owning a lot of east side san jose, and now we own strip malls (w00t) I hang out on slash because during the boom, I was quite the sysadmin, and came to know this place.

    Back to the subject of enviromental disasters...

    My great grandfather, grandfather, heck even my uncles could go to any stream in the bay area and fish without worries of toxic fish with 3 eyes. Before milpitas became a great big office complex they would take their shotguns out to the duck blinds and get duck.

    These days though, there isn't shit left. Guadelupe river has a big sign "DONT EAT THESE FISH POISONOUS" all along it's banks. They say it's because of the "quicksilver" (read mercury) mines that were prevalent in the almaden valley area, but those existed WAY before IBM, which sits along the coyote creek which is a feeder into the Guadelupe.

    What does this have to do with recycling computer stuff? Well let me tell you....

    Since i've pretty much been jobless the last 2 years, i've gone back to my second love of bicycle riding. Riding a bike is a lot differerent than driving a car because if you want to stop to look at something.. No big deal. Hit the breaks and stop for a minute..

    Last week I was riding along almaden expressway when I saw an AT style case laying in the creekbed (Almaden expressway runs along the guadelupe) I parked my bike, walked over and decided to take a look.

    It looked like an old pentium class PC, I whipped out my swiss army knife's phillips attatchment to see what was under the hood..

    Well, there was definetly a p133 in there. Nice of socket7 to make it easy to pocket this little treasure. Ram turned out to be 4 16bit EDO ram modules totaling 64 megs.

    Hard drive had enough oxidation where I didn't want it, same went for the floppy....

    But the point i'm trying to make is here in SV people have been dumping this type of semi usefull electronic shit for years in our creeks, and the combination of population explosion with enviromental hazzards has really fucked up the ecology of SV.

    Now moderators, (and rob, cause i know you mod my shit once in a while) please.. This is the god honest truth i'm telling here, any negative mods would be an injustice to the truth (isn't that what good journalism is about anyways?)

    Compare San Jose ecological system with a close sister city like portland. Portland OR. has just as many bright talented people as SJ/SV (think M$) The health of their river and stream systems just blows doors over anything we have because they took the time to think ahead (should we whore ourselves out for business or should we keep quality of life in mind)

    Here in SJ, people are basically dumping their systems in the creeks and steams. Maybe i'm just being a bit optimistic here, but since so many of us geeks are outta work right now shouldn't we do something about it??? Seriously folks, go download some "router centric" version of *nix, turn those old POS 133's into broadband routers for those not in know. WTF I can find any ISA 3com NIC at a surplus store for less than a dollar.

    I love what I used to do, I loved edumucating people on just how they can get the most out of their pc's. In this day and age of firewire capture and such, we need to let people know that their old 486-pentium 200mhz still got some life left in them in the form of hella phat broadband routers that will not only protect them from the evil assholes of the internet, but will log it too (Soooooo much better than my old linksys router)

    You know... this is our scene.. And despite GWB being a total cocksucking dickhead to technology (yeah i hear you GWB, u n daddy want oil) we put our faith, our geeky little belief in thing like fuel cells, organic LED's and the like because ultimately we know it's better.

    I can't really comment much on the havoc IBM and other companies have wreaked havoc on our ecology, but I know what we gotta do to stretch out the "usefullness" of what we got. And folks, there are two ways you can fucking approach it..

    A. educate people..
    B. stick your head up your ass.

    So my advice to all of you is, if you want to prevent this sort of crap from continueing, DO IT FOR FREE!!! seriously, I consider myself an out of work techno hippie. Set up that killer BSD server with no backdo0rz fo free. Fuck it, aint no shame in promotin yo name. Trust me folks, all the no-geek people out there will love it when you show them how they can use their sprintlink wirelesss dsl to link to an 20 gig archive of data being served over a wireless link. Just don't whine about it, do something!@!!!!!

    Well, i hope I've inspired folks to do something instead of whining about it. Sorry u all but im on my second glass of wine and aint coming down. (still can type :) geek cominucae continues) Since we're the teachers its up to us to show the y to the (quote"l4m3rz"unquote) the path to rightiousnuss.

    Becoming an enviromentall activist on this subject requies more than post on /. ..... it requires some action.

    Yours Truly...

  • computer recyling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by starjax ( 554281 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @09:37PM (#4747478)
    I helped start a computer recycling business (provided business, computer expertise, and moral support). My friend is still running the business after 5 years. The industry is going through lots of changes, however not once has he ever sent something overseas. In fact nothing ends up in the landfill. He is proud to exceed all epa, federal, state, and local guidelines. I cant imageing that shipping stuff overseas would save money. I also wonder if the origanators of the salavage are aware of how its being disposed of. At least everytime I hear of this story I cringe. Maybe its cause Im in the midwest, but dont know of any salvage operator that does this. I would be interested to hear from other people in the business. starjax
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The article said it is created there, why shouldn't it be returned there for recycling? They should do a better job of it, but that is really their deal, not ours.

    They made it, we bought it, used it and sold it back to them when we where done. I have no problem with that. They should do a better job with disposing of it. I am glad it is there and not here!
  • exporting scrap (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lgalindo ( 530228 )
    Sorry, but ... I need to say here that countries like mine (south America) and surely Africa are bigger technology trash cans? Is that new for you? If this is new I'm reading the wrong page.
  • Here in the province of Ontario (in Canada) there exists a program named Computers for Schools - Ontario []. The purpose is to re-use old computers and parts. In short "Computers for Schools is a national Program that turns your old computers into a strategic resource." Sure, it won't keep them going forever, but at least the computers will get more widely used before converting to the "dark side". Therefore we can at least get more good mileage out of them. It doesn't solve the problem, but at least people might feel a bit better about being able to sustain the inevitability for a bit longer and help out education in the meantime.

    Please post similar programs from other provinces and states. It's feels a lot better to donate computers instead of throwing them out.

    And what would a /. posting be without my 2 cents ...
    (Boy, I can feel the flames on this one already, but here goes ....)
    From the article: They dip circuit boards and chips in acid to recover small amounts of gold, inhaling the fumes and dumping the acid into a nearby river that is dying.
    We are not asking them to do that. I don't think Westerners should feel extremely guilty over these facts. Other countries have governments, regulations, and rules. It's up those goverments to actually create the safety regulations. We can ask, but they make the final decision. Sure we can stop "using" those countries for our own benefit as much as we do. I know North America does a lot of wrong for the sake of capitalism.
    And also "migrant workers are paid pennies to crack open and sort the parts of monitors and circuit boards".
    I am ignorant of the economical facts about those countries, but how do we know that it's as bad as it sounds. I mean, we live in the most prosperous nations of the world -- pretty much anything might sound bad to us. Might those pennies actually buy food, clothing, etc; maybe those are pennies they would not have otherwise had. If so then that's one good point amongst all the negatives. I'm just trying to say we need to look into every reported statement carefully before jumping to conclusions. Media outlets do love sensationalism.

  • by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @10:29PM (#4747819) Homepage
    There was a recent Guardian article [] about how Kazakhstan was looking towards importing European nuclear waste as a way of rescuing their economy. The company planning this expects to use abandoned uranium mines; the company president was quoted as
    We get $10 for extracting a cubic metre of uranium. We would get $100 to deposit the same amount of nuclear waste.
    (I think he meant extracting uranium ore- $10/ m^3 is a very good price for uranium...)

    It makes more sense when you realize that they already have their own huge radioactive disposal problem, and the marginal cost of a little bit more disposal is much less than what other, far more crowded European countries would be willing to pay to get it off their hands. They are the ninth largest country in the world with a population of 16 million, so there is significantly more room for waste disposal than in nearby Western Europe, which may be the region in the world most sensitive to waste disposal concerns of all kinds.

    Just as in other environmental decisions, there are immediate and long-term goals that need to be balanced. Economic factors affect these decisions- an affluent community would rather have an expensive recycling facility, whereas an impoverished community would think it is nuts to spend big bucks on that and would go with the cheaper, traditional solution of a town dump, complete with perpetual tire-fire. These decisions are motivated by economic factors- given ample resources, most everyone would prefer a cleaner environment. But not everyone is willing to pay for it, so there ends up being disparity between decisions that affect the environment based upon local economic conditions.

    Internationally, this comes as third-world countries which are happy to exchange cleaner air for lower-cost production which allows essential economic growth. Presumably, residents (or at least political representatives of residents) value the immediate economic boon over the long-term consequences. In the case of disposal, since there are already large waste-disposal issues of their own, the marginal cost of slightly larger waste-disposal issues apparently is outweighed by the massive price other countries would be willing to pay to get it off their hands. Unfortunately, decisions like these (trading in a long-term cost for a short-term benefit), are often political, and political decisions rarely favor long-term sustainable policies over short-term boons.

  • by humble ( 307247 )
    I submitted a similar story to Slashdot last month, describing the Canadian connection, as part of an investigation by a local NGO.

    Have a read on Vancouver Indymedia... []

  • Any organization with the word "Coalition" in the name are socialists operating under some other guise. Same for any organization which uses the word "Toxics" [sic].

    These organizations spread disinformation and hysteria, with the real intent of 1) stopping profitable business or 2) finding a high-leverage segment of the economy to burden with special taxes and fees. Why? To support their Marxian ideal of redistribution of income.

    Most could not care less about the actual ecological effects. They want instead to make people living within a successful economic system, feel guilty that people living within a murderous and failing economic system can only make $0.17/hour.

    A CRT screen contains phosphors, not "phosphorus". The U.S. Navy lists phosphorus as "highly toxic". Indeed - elemental phosphorus is nasty, but without phosphorus as phosphate, our metabolism would cease instantly. The confusion of the two words is either inexcusably ignorant, or deliberately fraudulent.

    These people are loudmouth liars - they don't care whether they get ANYTHING correct, as long as they can gain more control.

    Color CRT screen phosphors have no significant quantity of phosphorus in them. They contain Yttrium, Europium, Vanadium, Zinc, Sulfur, Silver, Copper, Gold, Aluminum, and Oxygen.

    Some phosphors in older or specialized CRTs did contain Cadmium, which is toxic. Of course gazillions of tons of Cadmium go onto steel as corrosion inhibiting coatings, and Cadmium is fundamental to NiCd rechargeable batteries.

    It is difficult to believe that the lead bound up in the leaded glass in CRTs is anything other than less hazardous than the elemental and exposed lead in solder in nearly every electronic device ever manufactured.

    These shrill fraudulent twerps, leveraged through criminally ignorant, malicious, or ideologically aligned lawyers and regulators, managed, nonetheless, to make it impossible to simply throw away an old TV set or CRT monitor in California.

    In the meantime, many of them are almost certainly hypocritically driving giant gas-sucking SUVs.

  • by kellan1 ( 23372 ) on Sunday November 24, 2002 @11:48PM (#4748321) Homepage

    Its too bad the Merc was too busy spreading the bad news to spread a little good news as well.

    Alameda Country Computer Resource Center [] is an excellent program, about 30 minutes from the Mercury's office, recycles and reuses, and installs Linux on much of what passes through their doors, and ships what they can't use to a special facility in Canada where it is smelted for valuable ores. (and no it doesn't get dumped in Canada, they have stricter laws about that kind of thing then we do)

    Also they only charge $10 for computer drop off not $30, and accept a number of items for free. They publish a schedule of fees [] on their website.

  • I've heard this mentioned before, but if this were 100% true why wouldn't all the humanitarian rights groups be going nuts? They seem to jump in on a lot of stuff that seems less significant than this situation (if this situation is accurate).

    I can think of a great way to salvage old PCs that I don't think anyone else has come up with...

    Grind them up and load the pieces into bombs as shrapnel. Why not?

    How cool would it be years from now to tell your grandkids you've got a piece of Macintosh IIe stuck in your leg instead of some boring story about shrapnel?
  • by bblgoose ( 597704 ) <.moc.klofekots. .ta. .bmit.> on Monday November 25, 2002 @12:49AM (#4748652) Homepage Journal
    I have about 10-15 old PC's (from P60+++)that, at the moment, are just stacked up gathering dust. However, given a few years, when Palladium is in full swing, I reckon these babys could well end up a lot more functional than anything else on the market. At the very least I'm cautious enough to hold on to them for the moment - Call me paranoid but I'm just paranoid.
  • by Factomatic ( 301893 ) on Monday November 25, 2002 @01:41AM (#4748896)

    The CBC TV investigative consumer news show Marketplace [] did a story on high-tech trash [] earlier this year.

    They talked to Seattle's Basel Action Network [], which made one of the earliest documentary videos of a cluster of villages in Guiyu, China, where 100,000 people live and work in what is essentially a giant computer dumping ground.

    You can watch the report in Quicktime [] or in Real Video [] format.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.