Where do your recycled computers, printers, toners, and cell phones really go?

Technology is ever changing and growing. What is new today, is old hat tomorrow. Americans always want to be on the cutting edge, but what happens to the old technology? Many places have “e-waste” drop off points, and most of us assume that the computer, toner, or cell phone we drop off will be responsibly recycled.

Sadly this is not always the case. Monitors, motherboards, and toner cartridges are extremely difficult to recycle due to lead, mixed materials, and hard plastic parts. Many recyclers have a hard time turning a profit by actually recycling these components due to the extremely technical nature of the process and the equipment that much be used. It is much easier to sell the waste to “recyclers” in China illegally. This just passes the problem to people who are much less equipped to deal with the recycling process.

The town of Guiyu, China seems to be an end of the road for much of this waste. The streets are boy on tonerlittered with piles of monitors, toners, cell phones, and other technological waste. The toxins in the land and water are so bad they need to have their water shipped in. The air is leaden with lead and other carcinogens. Those who live here attempt to reclaim the usable materials from some of this e-waste by burning the plastic away causing toxic clouds of smoke and fumes. Children play barefoot on piles of obsolete and broken technology.

How can you help? Instead of recycling, we can all cut down our waste by reusing materials. Find a responsible re-manufacturer for your computers, toner cartridges, and other out of date technology. If you don’t know who re-manufactures your materials, call someone who repairs it. If they don’t take it, they will know where to send you. For those things that cannot be reused, take the time to look at the processes of your recycling plant. Ask your local place for a walk through, or at least do some online research.

You can find a 60 Minutes video and article at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4586903n. There is also an article with more information from recharger magazine at http://download.101com.com/rec/Cartridge_Solutions4p.pdf

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