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Inside the Fake PC Recycling Market 320

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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  • 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.

  • by JustinRLynn ( 831164 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:21PM (#32833528)
    "Should We Throw Hazardous Waste Into Volcanoes? [slate.com]". Heavy metals and nuclear waste would just get dispersed into the atmosphere.
  • 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.

  • by BeforeCoffee ( 519489 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @07:49PM (#32833770)

    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 story! Good day, sir.

  • 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:Alternatives? (Score:3, Informative)

    by RsG ( 809189 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:49PM (#32834200)

    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 rendered harmless the way that, for example, petroleum products can.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @08:51PM (#32834216)

    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.

  • 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.

  • Must see movie (Score:4, Informative)

    by cjjjer ( 530715 ) <cjjjerNO@SPAMhotmail.com> 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...
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday July 07, 2010 @11:14PM (#32835110) Homepage Journal
    If you have a FreeGeek [wikipedia.org] near you, take it there. The Columbus one charge a fee of $10 per monitor.
  • I work in electronic recycling and I can tell you that there are a great number of recyclers who are doing just this, however the profitability of such operations is always in a bit of flux.

    Commodity prices do not in fact cover the cost of the labor needed to break down most consumer electronics into recoverable waste streams. The cost of labor and the yield is simply not cost effective on most products without the added revenue of charging the producer/consumer or optional resale.

    The price of shipping something to China however, is practically negligible, and once they're rid of it the disposal companies could care less what's done with it.
  • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @12:48AM (#32835684) Journal

    What we're actually 'efficient' at it producing needless sofrware bloat that assures the old gear won't seem useful to anybody. Even here in a nerd haven like slashdot the meme is 'get a new machine' and almost never do we ask ourselves what computing resources are really needed for a task. Instead, 'code re-use' philosophies are trumpeted and object-oriented coding is championed with the result that big blob code modules are pulled in and little parts get used. Memory fills up fast and old hardware becomes inadequate.

      When I first started using Linux a good usable desktop would run on a 486 with 16 megs of memory. For the everyday stuff that is still the norm for many people that wuold still be a useful desktop. Don't try it with a modern distro, of course. Many of us hoped that there would be a code convergance; the more something gets worked on, the more it should improve, and the same software, as it advances, should perform better and faster on the same hardware. Unfortunately egos aren't as rewarded from improving somebody else's old code as they are from getting your new code merged into the stew and/or by starting over with a new more bloated program using the latest all singing and dancing bloated software tools.

    I can't make the claim that I've done my part in helping the convergence along, have any of us? But it is something that sadly hasn't happened. I still use old 486 laptops for productive things, but only if I run older software on them and/or the current version of classic powerful tools (i.e. good old current NetBSD on a 486 laptop runs vi and the classic Unix tools quite well, even X11 with the Tab WM or FVWM)

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

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @01:01AM (#32835764) Journal
    In terms of energy output, I have no doubt that such a system would work just fine. Even quite primitive combustion technologies will get you net-positive energy out of all but the most combustion resistant plastics.

    Assuming their claims are roughly accurate, they may also avoid some of the nasty side effects of crude incineration: many plastics, and organic combustibles generally, will put out a grab-bag of nasties (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other carcinogenic deliciousness) if their combustion occurs at too low a temperature, or is incomplete. A properly designed and operated pyrolytic system would, presumably, avoid that, assuming it actually spends its life running to spec, not necessarily to lowest operating cost.

    Where my skepticism and concern kick in, though, are with plastics that have high odds of being nasty no matter how you burn them. PVC, for instance, is ~50% chlorine by weight. Chlorine has some really vicious combustion products(dioxins being the most famous). Those guys explicitly claim [pyrolyzerllc.com] support for "highly chlorinated plastics". Where does the chlorine go?

    Even plastics that sound like they should be pretty harmless when burned properly(like ABS) virtually always have a number of processing aids, additives, fillers, pigments, flame retardants, and stabilizers in them by the time they hit the real world. Depending on the precise application, manufacturer, date of manufacture, and other variables pretty much impossible to economically determine at disposal time, that can mean all kinds of curious chemicals. With electronics, chlorine or bromine based flame retardants in the plastic parts are practically a given. Neither has combustion products that I would want to breath. Heavy-metal based inorganic pigments(good old cadmium yellow and friends) cannot be ruled out. Organonickel UV stabilizers are a possibility. Lead based heat stabilizers may show up as well.

    It could be, I am not a toxicologist, that all this stuff is less nasty than what you would get by generating the same amount of energy with coal, which would make it a net win compared to current practice; but some plastics are not to be incinerated lightly, including some that show up almost across the board in consumer products.
  • 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.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday July 08, 2010 @03:00PM (#32843374)

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

If you want to put yourself on the map, publish your own map.