New Dump Zone found in China for Toxic Electronic Waste: Japan, South Korea Guilty

Feature Story - 2004-04-23
Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network (BAN) have discovered that China's new thirst for steel and copper scrap to fuel booming infrastructural growth, is allowing significant quantities of highly polluting hazardous electronic waste to enter the country illegally. The forbidden toxic electronic waste is mixed in with the massive amounts of scrap imports now entering the country from Japan and South Korea.

BAN and Greenpeace released the latest findings at the International Conference on Electronic Waste and Producers Environmental Responsibilities in China organised by Greenpeace and the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences held in Beijing. The findings follow a joint field investigation in the scrap processing region of Taizhou, this February.

The importation of most forms of electronic waste into China has been forbidden under national law for several years and export of electronic waste without Chinese permission is illegal in Japan.

Nevertheless, despite a recent crackdown by Chinese authorities that has had an impact on preventing some incoming containers full of e-waste from North America, the environmentalists found that electronic wastes were arriving into the country mixed into the steel and copper scrap off-loaded 24 hours a day from bulkloader vessels arriving from Korea and Japan in the port of Taizhou.

"It is still abundantly evident that electronic waste is still pouring into China through the cracks, and most of it is coming from recycling programs in countries that are trying to prevent pollution of their own territory," said LaiYun, toxic campaigner of Greenpeace China. "It is unacceptable when such toxic wastes are carefully collected in countries like Japan, only to have it dumped without concern for its ultimate fate, on China."

The smuggled hazardous wastes, included computers, electronic appliances and transformer carcasses. Most of this waste gets processed in Taizhou itself in the many large-scale dismantling yards where thousands of laborers sit all day wielding chisel and hammer, breaking down the electronic equipment. However even this "formal" recycling sector, was found to be routinely engaged in highly polluting activities such as the open burning of motors, wires etc. to liberate the metals from plastic insulation or housings.

Further, a survey of nearby rural areas around Taizhou revealed that hundreds and perhaps thousands of farmers are now engaged in primitive and highly polluting electronic waste recycling operations which involved open cooking of circuit boards, shredding and primitive smelting operations. These small-scale operators are very easy to locate due to the acrid smell of melting solder that now hangs over the once fresh farmland. Farmers claim that they will starve if they are able to only practice farming and desperately cling to the additional income found from cooking, melting and pulling chips from circuit boards.

The discovery of the widespread informal recycling activities raise fears that the Chinese electronic waste smuggling problem extends far beyond Guiyu, in Guangdong province which BAN, Greenpeace and other organizations revealed in 2002 as a major North American e-waste dumping zone. While such e-waste importation is illegal, BAN and Greenpeace have long maintained that countries like Japan and the United States should strictly control their exports rather than expect China to be able to completely control their massive seaboard against smuggling.

"Taizhou looks like it is fast becoming another environmental and health tragedy like Guiyu," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of BAN, "However, the real crime here is not the willingness of poor farmers to make a living, the real crime is the unwillingness of countries like the United States and Japan to take responsibility for preventing the global dumping of their own toxic waste."