Toxic Technology contaminates e-waste recycling yards in China and India

Feature Story - 2005-08-17
Greenpeace today released a report of its scientific investigations into the hazardous chemicals found in the scrap yards where electronic waste is recycled in China and India. The results from analysing the dust from workshops, as well as wastewater, soil and sediment from local rivers show conclusively that all stages in processing the e-waste enable toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, to be released into the workplace and into the surrounding environment.

Chinese man smelts computer parts in the open air to extract metals. Open air burning of computer waste releases large amounts of toxic fumes.

The release of the report, "Toxic Tech: Recycling of electronic wastes in China and India: workplace and environmental contamination", comes a few days after the European Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) came into effect on 13th August. The directive, which regulates the handling of e-waste in the EU region by making electronics producers responsible, has yet to be implemented in many EU countries. Despite an EU ban on exports of hazardous waste, including e-waste, to developing countries, there is increasing evidence of e-waste being sent to Asia from Europe illegally. The majority of the waste being exported to Asia comes from the United States.

Concentrations of lead in dust samples collected from some workshops in China were hundreds of times higher than typical levels of household dusts. The levels of lead in dust collected from similar workshops in India were approximately 5-20 times background levels. Contamination was not limited to the recycling yards; dust collected from the homes of two e-waste recycling workers in China had higher levels of heavy metals, particularly lead, compared to dust collected from one neighbouring house with no link to e-waste recycling.

Samsung, Nokia, Sony and Sony Ericsson have made commitments to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals such as PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in the manufacturing of their products. LG Electronics is the latest to join the list of companies in committing to substitute these harmful substances with safer alternatives. Other companies like Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP, Siemens, Acer, Toshiba, Panasonic, Fujitsu-Siemens and Apple have so far, failed to commit.

Besides reinforcing the law implementation, we stress that the electronic producers should take the full responsibility to phase out toxic substances. We are very disappointed at those companies who failed to commit, and again call for them to take the immediate action.