But the tech industry has a dirty little secret: it has toxic waste of its own. Phones and computers contain dangerous metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, which can contaminate the air and water when those products are dumped. It's called electronic waste, or e-waste, and the world produces a lot of it: 20 to 50 million tons a year, according to the UN — enough to load a train that would stretch around the world. The U.S. is by far the world's top producer of e-waste, but much of it ends up elsewhere — specifically, in developing nations like China, India and Nigeria, to which rich countries have been shipping garbage for years. There the poor, often including children, dismantle dumped PCs and phones, stripping the components for the valuable — and toxic — metals contained inside. In the cities like the southern Chinese town of Guiyu, they work with little protection, melting down components and breathing in poisonous fumes. What can't be recycled is simply dumped, turning already poisoned rivers into toxic sludge. It's all done in the hope of earning a few dollars from the detritus of the clean digital economy.
I just about shat myself when I read the above paragraph. I try to be a good world citizen-recycling all my plastics and never throwing away something that can or should be recycled. But I don't think about electronic waste, it just never occurred to me until I read the Time writeup. I have never tossed out a computer or old cell phone however..I keep them and figure that eventually I will dispose of them correctly..but then, how does our government handle this waste that we carefully dispose of?
The US dumps this massive problem on third world countries. Our rich nation takes advantage of the poor nations without blinking an eye. Again, from the Time article:
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was established by the UN in 1989 to control the hazardous garbage flowing from rich countries to poor ones. The convention allows countries to unilaterally ban the import of waste, and requires exporters to get the consent of destination countries before they send trash abroad. But the United States, a prime source of e-waste and other toxic waste, never signed onto the treaty, leaving it weakened, and some of the destination nations — most prominently China — quietly allow the dumping to continue, for the money it brings in.
Why didn't the US ratify this treaty? Why wouldn't our government want to take part in this effort? Of the 170 parties to the Convention, only three countries have signed the Convention but have not yet ratified it. The treaty went into effect on May 5, 1992. The Reagan administration didn't do shit towards ratification, and neither did the Bush41 administration.
God bless those fucking republican administrations. The map below shows the countries in blue that have ratified the agreement. The cough..red countries have not. The red countries are: Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States. Jesus, we are in such good company there aren't we?