Electronic or computer can be twice as much as

Electronic Waste
Recycling Solutions in Guiyu City, China

Electronic waste includes
electronic products suchs as computers, mobile phones, printers, television
sets etc. which have become an integral part of our lives and we have become
highly dependent on them. Heavy dependency and our technologically fast paced
society has led to an increasing need to switch to newer and more efficient
electronics and gadgets. Electronics are easy to break and in most times
impractical to repair. The cost to repair a phone or computer can be twice as
much as a new one.

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Informal recycling of these
electronic products is a new and expanding low cost recycling solution. Usually
occuring in developing countries, with lax enviromnental law and management and
inexpensive labour, including China. Guiyu, is one of the largest and intensive
e-waste recycling centers in China since 1995. (Wong, M. et al. 2007) Recyclers
from developed countries are left with little choice than to export e-waste due
to the lack of a domestic market for the recycled parts. Low costs and individual
collectors collecting this e-waste contributes to the growth of the informal recycling
sector. Processes involved in the recycling solutions of electronic waste
(e-waste) are surfacing as a global concern as they release persistent toxic
substances (PTSs) into our environment and thus into the food web. (Leung,
A. et al 2006)


Major Sources of E-waste in

“Guiyu, has a population of
150,000 including 100,000 migrants with more than 300 companies and 3000
individual workshops making up more than 20 of the total 28 villages involved
in 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 processing
of e-waste with nearly 100,000 migrant laborers (from countryside of poorer provinces
north of Guangdong Province) employed in Guiyu, who take up this job at low
wages with minimal or no consideration to health and environment protection. Many
of these laborers are women and children. At least three large scale e-waste
openburning sites  are present in the rice
fields and along riversides.  (Wong,
M. et al. 2007)

Three major sources contribute to
the e-waste that is recycled in Guiyu, China; that is, consumption, importation
and production. China generated 1.7 million tons of e-waste in 2006, equal to
1.3 kg of e-waste per capita and this
figure rises every year. (Leung, A. et
al 2008) The
bulk of e-waste in China comes from the developed countries who export it to poorer
developing and underdeveloped countries for recycling. One of the reasons for exportation of e-waste is the low labor
cost for recycling in these countries as compared to recycling or disposing of
the e-waste domestically. 50%–80% of
the e-waste collected for recycling in industrialized countries, such as the
US, is exported to recycling centers in Asia. (Leung, A. et al 2006) China receives e-waste shipments from US, Europe and
other neighbouring Asian countries like Japan and South Korea and appears to be
the largest dumping site of e-waste. (Leung,
A. et al 2006) The majority of
e-waste imports into China are illegitimate and import permissions of wastes
are only given to certain secondary materials like cables, wires, mixed metals
and motors, as these can be used as raw materials and be recycled by authorized
recyclers. E-wastes is mostly sold to less developed regions for simple
maintenance or repair. The remaining e-waste that cannot be reused is processed
to recover valuable components and materials by manual dismantling and then
treating in unquali?ed household workshops or small factories. (Chi, X.

et al. 2011)


Recycling Methods

Guiyu, 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 physical
dismantling by tools without any special protection, removing components and
melting lead solder from circuit boards by heating over coal-?red grill, stripping
of metals in open-pit acid baths to recover gold and other metals, chipping and
melting plastics without proper ventilation, burning and stripping cables to
recover copper, and burning unwanted materials in open air, disposing
unsalvageable materials in ?elds and riverbanks.” (Chi, X. et al.


Recycling centers in regions
like Guiyu, do not have the necessary facilities to safeguard enviromental and
human health. These e-waste recycling activities have extensive dangers on the
environment and the workers. The workers and their family along with the
residents living in the area are exposed to toxic chemicals through inhalation,
dermal exposure and through contaminated food and drinking water. These
recycling methods tend to be ‘cost-ef?cient’, due to the use of non-skilled
manual labor and no consideration of any hazards to environment or health. (Chi,
X. et al. 2011)


Environmental Effects

E-waste is one of the largest
sources of heavy metals and organic pollutants. Due to the hazardous nature of e-waste the recycling solutions in
Guiyu create a number of environmental challenges. These recycling activities have caused the environment to be grossly
polluted by heavy metals as well as by persistent toxic metals such as lead and
mercury as well as  such as
organochlorine pesticides, persistent organic pollutants (such as ?ame
retardants polybrominated diphenyl ethers-PBDEs and dioxins/furans
polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofu-rans-PCDD/Fs) (Chi, X.

et al. 2011). This toxic waste enters Guiyu’s land and water and burning of
e-waste pollutes the air. Lead and barium leachate and toxic phosphor releases
were caused by disposing the waste in irrigation canals and along river sides. The
water streams in Guiyu have turned black, acidic and choked with industrial
waste and the groundwater is undrinkable. Clean water is brought into Guiyu from
a neighbouring town since around 5 years. The air in the area smells fouls due
to the open-burning of wires and cables to extract the metal  in them. This open-burning of PVC and plastic
releases toxic dioxins and cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Inhalation
of toxic fumes also occurs from the de-souldering proces of printed circuit
boards over a coal-fired grilled. The remaining parts of the circuit boards are
further processed by acid stripping to extract minute amonts of gold causing
the release corrosive toxic fumes. Cathode-ray tubes(CRTs) used in computers
are considered as hazardous waste due to their high lead content. The breaking
by hand of these CRTs to obtain the copper alone could pose a risk for a
possible explosion in the area.


Health Effects

process of recycling e-waste in Guiyu exposes the workers and their family
directly to the contaminants and also via the the contamination of the
environment. Many children and
pregnant women live and work on the site. They are void of clean water and have
to transport clean drinking water from outside the city while they still inhale
polluted air. Toxic organic chemicals that are taken into the body by inhalation or ingestion are stored in fatty
tissues. Toxic chemicals also find
their way into the food chain from environment either from the food produced or
water available in the area.  Chemicals that run into the sources of water
in the area causing contamination also appeared to relate to the feeding modes
of ?sh (Leung, A. et al 2006). Concentrations
of organochlorines, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs) and polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs) in human milk of the residents were found to be signi?cantly
correlated to the frequency of ?sh consumption. (Leung, A. et al 2006) High levels of blood lead in children and Polybrominated
diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the serum of e-waste workers in Guiyu have also been
found. Exposure to toxins by inhalation is of concern to the residents in
Guiyu, especially for the e-waste workers conducting open burning activities,
who are more likely to be exposed through inhalation of vapors along with
dermal contact. The vegetables and
dishes washed in the polluted water is the reason for many gastric illnesses
developed among the residents. Many residents have developed respiratory and
gastric concerns. Consumption of toxins through food represents the main route of
exposure in the area. (Xing, G. H. et al. 2009)




 The above is a flow chart of the informal and formal
e-waste processes in China consisting of consumption, collection, recovery and
disposal. Some of the major reasons behind the thriving state of China’s informal
recycling sector are: (1) illegal
imports and domestic individual collections; (2) low treatment costs; (3)
highly specified dismantling processes which maximize the recovery of
functional value by efficient separation of reusable components and parts; (3)
lack of awareness among consumers, collectors and recyclers of the potential
hazards of e-waste,  (6) absence of
effective take-back programs for end-of-life EEE, (7) lack of
interest/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 recycling
solutions are self-organized and driven by demand in the sense that products
from these sites in Guiyu are sold to big electronic centres in neighboring
cities such as Shenzhen, metals that are separated are supplied to metal
refineries and plastics are locally recycled to low or medium grade and offered
to toy companies in Shantou city – often at a cheaper price.

These alternative uses of
parts and materials may be the reason for informal recycling to thrive over
formal recyclers. Formal recyclers cannot compete with the informal collectors
in terms of cost or their door-to-door collection networks. Formal recyclers have massive treatment costs and therefore at a
risk of low pro?tability and limited abilities; further indirectly worsening
the existence of informal recycling.

constant movement into and processing of e-wastes in Guiyu leading to the
harmful and toxic environment and living conditions, coupled with inadequate facilities,
have led to the town being nicknamed the “electronic graveyard of the

Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was
designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and
specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less
developed countries (LDCs). It was made effective on 5 May 1992.




management practices must be implemented throughout the entire life of the
product –from the design stage (cradle) to the end-of-life stage (grave) To
deal with the generation of e-waste. (Chi, X. et al. 2011) Reuse, recycling and product take-back could be the
primary solutions to be focused upon. Making the electronics companies
accountable for their products put out in the market rather than focusing only
production would be the most effective way to address this problem.

The public should be made aware of the e-waste being
generated and its detrimental effects on health and the environment. Consumers
can also make sure that the products they recycle are not getting exported to
developing countries. They can also choose to buy greener products that may be
recycled and refurbished instead of brand new ones.

The companies as well as the public
can be offered incentives to return their old products or repairing them before
buying new ones. Making companies deal with their products by having Extended
Producing Responsibility or Product Take Back. So, companies can be held
accountable for the products they make rather than only producing to make profits.

Having products that can be upgraded easily for a longer period would increase
the time between buying electronics; essentially making products long lasting
and recyclable. Companies can also encourage repairing the products instead of
replacing it. Setting up incentives for informal
recyclers to reduce improper recycling activities and to divert more e-waste into
the formal recycling sector. Strict legislation to not have e-waste recycled
informally and policies in place for standards of safety and protection to be
followed is also extremely important.