With over 80% of recycled electronics and computers ending up as an advanced e-waste in developing countries, we need to step up as responsible citizens of the world and select computer and electronics recycling companies very prudently. We must choose only those electronics recycling companies that are running both a socially and an ecologically sound operation, end-to-end. To understand how global dumping ensues, it helps to first comprehend the business model for electronic recycling.
To sustain as a business, electronic recyclers must spawn enough revenues from all its recycling and reuse services and the reclamation of valuable metals and other recycling materials, minus operating costs and the price of de-manufacturing those items that yield no value (yet injure the environment).
The difference between an ecologically responsible computer and electronics recycling company and an unreliable one can be broken down as follows: a) the way they engender reuse revenues; b) how they reclaim valuable metals and recycling materials; c) how they bring about the de-manufacturing procedure of low-value, toxic elements.
Consider the valuable metal reclamation process for a moment. A responsible company would require investing in having a safe working environment with appropriate protective gear for its workers and proper waste treatment procedures to avoid environmental contamination. In addition, a responsible electronics recycling company will run using specialized de-manufacturing equipment that protects the workers from the injurious materials or dust that escapes during the course of de-manufacturing.
An irresponsible recycling company circumvents any investment in the de-manufacturing area. In fact, irresponsible recycling companies by no means lay eyes on the workers who in due course break apart the leftover electronic parts. Those workers are usually low-paid laborers from remote villages, who use their bare hands and aboriginal tools such as chisels and hammers to pry the prized materials from the discarded items. The final discarded parts are then discarded anywhere – in rivers or streams or burned in a swamp – bringing about major public health issues.
The most menacing materials found in e-waste are not the reclaimed valuable metals, but the low-value, noxious materials such as mercury found in switches and flat screens and the brominated flame retardants utilized on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casings. These are the materials that need major investment in the de-manufacturing process. In a nutshell, the cost to operate a benign operating de-manufacturing facility makes responsible and accountable electronic recycling much more problematic than the much used alternative: global dumping.