E-Waste Recycling In China Not Green

Feel good about all that e-waste recycling you’ve been doing? Unfortunately, the majority of our e-waste is currently being shipped to China for recycling where, according to Oregon State University, the low-tech recycling practices are exposing serious health threats to workers as well as creating environmental hazards.

In a study recently published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, scientists from China and the United States identified numerous toxic elements in the emissions from a e-waste recycling workshop they studied in southern China, which uses low-tech methods to separate reusable electronic components from the circuit boards. According to their research, these type of methods are the norm for recycling facilities all over China.

e-waste

image via Pike Research

The workshop studied–located the Shantou province–contained 24 stoves along three walls, and an estimated five tons of circuit boards stacked along the fourth wall for processing. The grills of the stoves were used to melt the solder and then remove reusable portions of the circuitry.  The study found that through this “roasting process,” numerous organic chemicals, heavy metals, flame retardants and persistent organic pollutants (or POPs) were emitted into the air via smoke, posing health hazards not only to the workers involved, but those who might be exposed to airborne toxins later.

One of the authors of the study, Bernd R.T. Simoneit, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University, said in a statement that “the most immediate problem is the health of the workers and the people who live in the city. But this may also be contributing to global contamination. For example, previous studies have found carcinogens in wind-carried dust from Asia.”

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.