The e-waste problem is not in China, it is right here

By Antoine Pourchet

Once every two years or so, the computing power of electronic devices doubles, and has been doing so for the past few decades. As such, we tend to discard so called “obsolete” computers when they are two to three years old and buy another that is faster and usually cheaper than the previous one. This has been at the root of the business platform for hardware manufacturers for a long time now, and it is widely known that they hold out new releases and technological advances to increase profits. The waste produced by this industry is colossal. Each year more than 50 million tons of e-waste are disposed of in landfills, and China is wrongly being blamed for it.

An article in the New York Times states that China is slowly becoming a menace on a global scale because of its rising e-waste production when it is actually acting like the world’s biggest e-dumpster. Numbers can lie as they do in this particular case. Although China now produces roughly the same amount of electronic scrap as the United States, one needs to remember the proportionality. China has 1.3 billion people. The United States, on the other hand, has about a fourth of that. Furthermore, China is investing a lot of money into the technology sector and although the Silicon Valley is known to be “where it’s at,” China may be catching up, and fast. More and more Chinese people come to the United States to get degrees, and now more than ever, many return home to find work. As technology and know-how increase, why should it be okay for the United States to pile up landfills but not for China?

In addition, a lot of the e-waste that is supposedly from China comes from overseas, as Western countries figured out that it was cheaper to export garbage than it is to take care of it. And as such , every year, they ship hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic garbage to be “recycled”, as people call it, in China. What actually happens is that the recycled waste is sent off to developing countries, where it pollutes water, soil, and air, and poses significant health risks to the people who dismantle it. Had it stayed in the States, e-waste would have caused these problems here too. In reality, this is the secret to a healthy environment. Have other people deal with your carcinogenic garbage, and the air will surely become clearer.

People argue that this kind of trade has positive consequences in China because it creates work and increases the flow of capital in and out of the country. The New York Times article states that towns like Guiyu can have more than one hundred thousand people employed in such industry. However this cannot compare to the number of cancer cases related to the pollution that such an industrial urban area produces. Thousands of people die prematurely in China every year because of lead poisoning, a condition that is very specific to the e-waste “treatment” industry.

This is not China’s problem, it is not Europe’s problem, it isn’t the United States’s problem; this is our problem as people of this planet. The waste we produce needs to go somewhere at some point in time, and so the only way to solve this problem (for now) is to reduce the amount of waste that we produce. Wait another year to throw your laptop out and sell extra cables and spare parts on eBay. Not only will it help the environment, but you will also earn a little money from doing so.

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