Electronic Waste Recycling Solutions in Guiyu City, ChinaElectronic waste includeselectronic products suchs as computers, mobile phones, printers, televisionsets etc.
which have become an integral part of our lives and we have becomehighly dependent on them. Heavy dependency and our technologically fast pacedsociety has led to an increasing need to switch to newer and more efficientelectronics and gadgets. Electronics are easy to break and in most timesimpractical to repair. The cost to repair a phone or computer can be twice asmuch as a new one. Informal recycling of theseelectronic products is a new and expanding low cost recycling solution. Usuallyoccuring in developing countries, with lax enviromnental law and management andinexpensive labour, including China. Guiyu, is one of the largest and intensivee-waste recycling centers in China since 1995.
(Wong, M. et al. 2007) Recyclersfrom developed countries are left with little choice than to export e-waste dueto the lack of a domestic market for the recycled parts. Low costs and individualcollectors collecting this e-waste contributes to the growth of the informal recyclingsector. Processes involved in the recycling solutions of electronic waste(e-waste) are surfacing as a global concern as they release persistent toxicsubstances (PTSs) into our environment and thus into the food web. (Leung,A. et al 2006) Major Sources of E-waste inGuiyu “Guiyu, has a population of150,000 including 100,000 migrants with more than 300 companies and 3000individual workshops making up more than 20 of the total 28 villages involvedin e-waste recycling work (Xing, G.
H. et al 2009).”( Chi, X. et al. 2011). Over 75%of the 300 individual workshops have been involved in dismantling or processingof e-waste with nearly 100,000 migrant laborers (from countryside of poorer provincesnorth of Guangdong Province) employed in Guiyu, who take up this job at lowwages with minimal or no consideration to health and environment protection.
Manyof these laborers are women and children. At least three large scale e-wasteopenburning sites are present in the ricefields and along riversides. (Wong,M. et al. 2007)Three major sources contribute tothe e-waste that is recycled in Guiyu, China; that is, consumption, importationand production. China generated 1.7 million tons of e-waste in 2006, equal to1.3 kg of e-waste per capita and thisfigure rises every year.
(Leung, A. etal 2008) Thebulk of e-waste in China comes from the developed countries who export it to poorerdeveloping and underdeveloped countries for recycling. One of the reasons for exportation of e-waste is the low laborcost for recycling in these countries as compared to recycling or disposing ofthe e-waste domestically.
50%–80% ofthe e-waste collected for recycling in industrialized countries, such as theUS, is exported to recycling centers in Asia. (Leung, A. et al 2006) China receives e-waste shipments from US, Europe andother neighbouring Asian countries like Japan and South Korea and appears to bethe largest dumping site of e-waste.
(Leung,A. et al 2006) The majority ofe-waste imports into China are illegitimate and import permissions of wastesare only given to certain secondary materials like cables, wires, mixed metalsand motors, as these can be used as raw materials and be recycled by authorizedrecyclers. E-wastes is mostly sold to less developed regions for simplemaintenance or repair. The remaining e-waste that cannot be reused is processedto recover valuable components and materials by manual dismantling and thentreating in unquali?ed household workshops or small factories. (Chi, X.et al. 2011) Recycling MethodsInGuiyu, e-waste recyclying is primitive, labour-intensive and highly pollutive.
Separation of reusable components and recovery of metals are obtained from the process. “These practices include physicaldismantling by tools without any special protection, removing components andmelting lead solder from circuit boards by heating over coal-?red grill, strippingof metals in open-pit acid baths to recover gold and other metals, chipping andmelting plastics without proper ventilation, burning and stripping cables torecover copper, and burning unwanted materials in open air, disposingunsalvageable materials in ?elds and riverbanks.” (Chi, X. et al.
2011)Recycling centers in regionslike Guiyu, do not have the necessary facilities to safeguard enviromental andhuman health. These e-waste recycling activities have extensive dangers on theenvironment and the workers. The workers and their family along with theresidents living in the area are exposed to toxic chemicals through inhalation,dermal exposure and through contaminated food and drinking water. Theserecycling methods tend to be ‘cost-ef?cient’, due to the use of non-skilledmanual labor and no consideration of any hazards to environment or health. (Chi,X.
et al. 2011) Environmental EffectsE-waste is one of the largestsources of heavy metals and organic pollutants. Due to the hazardous nature of e-waste the recycling solutions inGuiyu create a number of environmental challenges. These recycling activities have caused the environment to be grosslypolluted by heavy metals as well as by persistent toxic metals such as lead andmercury as well as such asorganochlorine pesticides, persistent organic pollutants (such as ?ameretardants polybrominated diphenyl ethers-PBDEs and dioxins/furanspolychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofu-rans-PCDD/Fs) (Chi, X.et al. 2011).
This toxic waste enters Guiyu’s land and water and burning ofe-waste pollutes the air. Lead and barium leachate and toxic phosphor releaseswere caused by disposing the waste in irrigation canals and along river sides. Thewater streams in Guiyu have turned black, acidic and choked with industrialwaste and the groundwater is undrinkable.
Clean water is brought into Guiyu froma neighbouring town since around 5 years. The air in the area smells fouls dueto the open-burning of wires and cables to extract the metal in them. This open-burning of PVC and plasticreleases toxic dioxins and cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Inhalationof toxic fumes also occurs from the de-souldering proces of printed circuitboards over a coal-fired grilled. The remaining parts of the circuit boards arefurther processed by acid stripping to extract minute amonts of gold causingthe release corrosive toxic fumes.
Cathode-ray tubes(CRTs) used in computersare considered as hazardous waste due to their high lead content. The breakingby hand of these CRTs to obtain the copper alone could pose a risk for apossible explosion in the area. Health EffectsTheprocess of recycling e-waste in Guiyu exposes the workers and their familydirectly to the contaminants and also via the the contamination of theenvironment. Many children andpregnant women live and work on the site. They are void of clean water and haveto transport clean drinking water from outside the city while they still inhalepolluted air.
Toxic organic chemicals that are taken into the body by inhalation or ingestion are stored in fattytissues. Toxic chemicals also findtheir way into the food chain from environment either from the food produced orwater available in the area. Chemicals that run into the sources of waterin the area causing contamination also appeared to relate to the feeding modesof ?sh (Leung, A. et al 2006). Concentrationsof organochlorines, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs) and polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs) in human milk of the residents were found to be signi?cantlycorrelated to the frequency of ?sh consumption.
(Leung, A. et al 2006) High levels of blood lead in children and Polybrominateddiphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the serum of e-waste workers in Guiyu have also beenfound. Exposure to toxins by inhalation is of concern to the residents inGuiyu, especially for the e-waste workers conducting open burning activities,who are more likely to be exposed through inhalation of vapors along withdermal contact. The vegetables anddishes washed in the polluted water is the reason for many gastric illnessesdeveloped among the residents. Many residents have developed respiratory andgastric concerns. Consumption of toxins through food represents the main route ofexposure in the area.
(Xing, G. H. et al. 2009) Conclusion The above is a flow chart of the informal and formale-waste processes in China consisting of consumption, collection, recovery anddisposal. Some of the major reasons behind the thriving state of China’s informalrecycling sector are: (1) illegalimports and domestic individual collections; (2) low treatment costs; (3)highly specified dismantling processes which maximize the recovery offunctional value by efficient separation of reusable components and parts; (3)lack of awareness among consumers, collectors and recyclers of the potentialhazards of e-waste, (6) absence ofeffective take-back programs for end-of-life EEE, (7) lack ofinterest/incentive in e-waste management by multinational IT companies and (8)absence and/or lax implementation of e-waste speci?c legislation. (Chi,X.
et al. 2011)The informal recyclingsolutions are self-organized and driven by demand in the sense that productsfrom these sites in Guiyu are sold to big electronic centres in neighboringcities such as Shenzhen, metals that are separated are supplied to metalrefineries and plastics are locally recycled to low or medium grade and offeredto toy companies in Shantou city – often at a cheaper price. These alternative uses ofparts and materials may be the reason for informal recycling to thrive overformal recyclers.
Formal recyclers cannot compete with the informal collectorsin terms of cost or their door-to-door collection networks. Formal recyclers have massive treatment costs and therefore at arisk of low pro?tability and limited abilities; further indirectly worseningthe existence of informal recycling.Theconstant movement into and processing of e-wastes in Guiyu leading to theharmful and toxic environment and living conditions, coupled with inadequate facilities,have led to the town being nicknamed the “electronic graveyard of theworld”.Basel Convention, is an international treaty that wasdesigned to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, andspecifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to lessdeveloped countries (LDCs). It was made effective on 5 May 1992.
RecommendationsEffectivemanagement practices must be implemented throughout the entire life of theproduct –from the design stage (cradle) to the end-of-life stage (grave) Todeal with the generation of e-waste. (Chi, X. et al. 2011) Reuse, recycling and product take-back could be theprimary solutions to be focused upon. Making the electronics companiesaccountable for their products put out in the market rather than focusing onlyproduction would be the most effective way to address this problem.The public should be made aware of the e-waste beinggenerated and its detrimental effects on health and the environment. Consumerscan also make sure that the products they recycle are not getting exported todeveloping countries. They can also choose to buy greener products that may berecycled and refurbished instead of brand new ones.
The companies as well as the publiccan be offered incentives to return their old products or repairing them beforebuying new ones. Making companies deal with their products by having ExtendedProducing Responsibility or Product Take Back. So, companies can be heldaccountable for the products they make rather than only producing to make profits.
Having products that can be upgraded easily for a longer period would increasethe time between buying electronics; essentially making products long lastingand recyclable. Companies can also encourage repairing the products instead ofreplacing it. Setting up incentives for informalrecyclers to reduce improper recycling activities and to divert more e-waste intothe formal recycling sector.
Strict legislation to not have e-waste recycledinformally and policies in place for standards of safety and protection to befollowed is also extremely important.