This article is supported by brilliant in the fall of 2015. A man named jim puckett was trying to solve a mystery. He had put a tracking device in a computer, monitor and then dropped it off at a recycling center and then watched to see where it wound up and according to the gps coordinates it wound up in hong kong.
This was not supposed to happen and he needed to find out why it did jim is the head of a group called basal action, network or ban, and he knows that e-waste often changes hands many times going from recycler to recycler before eventually getting stripped down for Parts and basic metals, often in foreign countries and often illegally, and it’s, his job to track down the worst offenders.
So he tracked backwards to find all the different places that the monitor stopped along the way and the last place that it stopped before it went over to hong kong shocked him. It was a company called total reclaim, and the thing about total reclaim was that they had been working with ban for years and had been held up as like the poster child for responsible e-waste recycling, and here they were doing the very thing that they’ve been railing against all this time.
Jim had put his reputation on the line for these guys and they betrayed him now. Total reclaims defense was that, despite their best intentions, the economic realities of domestic recycling, just didn’t, add up and they had to surrender to the truth, which is their only option, was to ship it overseas, which let’s face.
It is a soft way of saying that they were trying to maximize profits. This underscores the problem with e-waste, the economic realities behind it, and how do you – and i do the right thing as intention as we might want to be when even the people who are saying they’re doing the right thing are doing the wrong Thing, how do we avoid becoming part of the problem? Because this problem is a problem’ a while back? I did a article on cobalt and the practices that are used to obtain it and why it’s kind of a problem in lithium-ion batteries.
That was eye-opening i’ve, also done a article on plastics in which i called plastics the best and worst invention of all time. I talked about how it gets broken down into the oceans into microplastics and eventually winds up in all of our bodies.
Well, guess what if you take all the problems associated with cobalt mining and combine them with all the problems associated with plastics? You get the double-headed demon monster problem known as e-waste, so strap in everyone.
This article has it all: hyper-consumerism capitalism, running much class warfare, governmental corruption, corporate greed and a creeping existential threat that nobody wants to think about, because to do so will just overwhelm you with guilt and hopelessness.
You might want to grab a drink. Let’s. Take our minds off the armageddon on your tv and let’s, focus on the one in your tv, so we & # 39. Ve talked on this channel before many times about moore’s law.
The basic idea being that electronics over time becomes cheaper and faster. Now that might lead a person to think that it’s, a good thing, because you can do more processing with smaller electronics, but it doesn’t work.
That way, because, as our processing speed increases exponentially, so does our need for processing speed increase right along with it. I mean our computers are way faster today, but we’re, not running windows 95 on it.
Software designers take advantage of the new processing speed to do newer, cooler things with it, so the amount of hardware stays about the same in the computers except it actually increases more because we realize, with this cheaper processing power, we can make anything into a computer.
Suddenly we’re, creating all kinds of new devices that can take advantage of this ubiquitous wi-fi that’s all around us and plus we can take things that we’ve, been using all of our lives and connect them And make them smart the internet of things.
Now everything is connected these days: smart thermostats, smart egg, timers, smart flip-flops, yes, smart flip-flops, the shoes that are meant to last and smart dolls, because toys never get destroyed.
Remember the furby furby was the quote-unquote life-like, robotic doll that took the world by storm in 1998., it’s, considered to be the first popular smart toy because it actually interacted with your kid.
You know so you wouldn’t have to in the first two years they sold 40 million furbies everybody loved them. People were hoarding them, they were the toilet paper of 1998 and then the novelty wore off or they broke, because kids are monsters and they were forgotten to history.
Those 40 million furbies equal 5 million pounds of electronic waste, and that was in 1998. Computerized devices are just disposable now, today, 38 tons of e-waste is generated every single minute. In 2016, 49 million tons of e-waste was produced enough to fill a million tractor trailers and in 2021 they’re, expecting it to go up to 57 million tons.
Here in the u.s anyway, e-waste is only just a small percentage of the total waste that we produce, but it represents 70 percent of the hazardous and toxic ways that we produce and only 10 to 40 of it is properly recycled.
Now you might be thinking 10 to 40, there’s, a pretty big, you know range there 30 come on, but the fact is it’s, a big range, because we really don’t know how much is being recycled. Nobody’s really tracking this.
Even the friggin epa has no idea how much is out there. According to their website, an undetermined amount of used electronics is shipped from the united states and other developed countries to developing countries that lack the capacity to reject imports or to handle these materials appropriately.
Now it should be noted that our waste in general is going exponential and is completely unsustainable. You know we’re just drowning in plastics and styrofoam. That will never break down, but e-waste is a thousand times.
Worse. Literally e-waste contains over a thousand hazardous chemicals, with some of the worst offenders being heavy metals that never break down in ecosystems and just compound to become more toxic over time.
Heavy metals like lead, which can cause all kinds of nervous system issues and can lower iqs across the population. A single cell phone can contain up to two grams of mercury, which is so toxic that one gram can make a 20 acre lake toxic, like don’t, eat the fish toxic and then there’s, arsenic, which in high doses, has Been used to murder people cadmium, which causes kidney damage, chlorine which causes tissue damage and bromine, which can mess with your thyroid.
Oh and give you cancer. This is a very incomplete list. There are many more toxic elements and e-waste, but when these things wind up in landfills, they can build up over time leach into our water supply and cause irreparable damage, and that leads to places like agbabloshi agbo blossie is a suburb of accra, the capital of ghana.
It’s, considered by many to be the most polluted place on earth on par with chernobyl, for the most dangerous place to visit here, scrappers as young as children scour an endless landscape of e-waste, stripping, precious metals from circuit boards, cords devices and monitors And sell them for five to fifteen dollars a day, but they can’t strip.
They burn releasing copper along with thick black smoke, saturated with cadmium, bromic, acid, lead and mercury. There are laws against this burning, but they’re, rarely enforced. There are laws against importing e-waste in the first place, but recyclers get around it by disguising the shipping containers to look like they’re carrying new electronics.
These scrappers often have extremely high levels of heavy metals in their blood and complain of their whole body. Hurting this buildup of metals is so severe that when an egg from a local chicken farm was tested, it showed 220 times the safe amount of chlorinated dioxins.
And sadly this is not a unique case. There’s, a growing number of cities around the world with a poor and desperate population and lacks regulation that’s, now being flooded with e-waste. Similar situations can be found in nigeria, karachi and pakistan, silence, india and perhaps worst of all, guayu and china.
China is basically the world’s, recycling hub not to go on a rant here, but whenever you put your recycling in that blue bin and you think it’s – probably going to some local processing center to be done.
No, it’s, usually being put on a container and shipped over to china. Over the last few decades, several billion dollar companies have sprung up in china by buying the world’s, recycling, doing the recycling and then selling it to the you know massive manufacturing infrastructure in china, because you know they they make everything there, but seriously.
All these cheap gadgets that we’re buying. They’re all made in china shipped around the world over here. We use them for a little while and then, when we’re done with them, they get shipped back to china.
Do you really think you’re, paying for all the resources involved in that cheap little gadget anyway? They were eventually overwhelmed by all the waste that was coming their way from around the world.
So actually, last year in 2019, china banned the import of e-waste and plastics that’s. How much of an environmental problem this is. China actually did something about it, but before this china imported nearly 70 percent of the world’s, e-waste and most of it wound up in guayu.
Guayu is 52 square. Kilometers of solid, loosely regulated e-waste picked over by around 150 000 scrappers, making around a buck. Fifty a day, forty percent of pregnancies in guayu end in a miscarriage cancer rates are through the roof, and drinking water has to be trucked in because the river and water table are so heavily tainted with lead, mercury and cadmium, a river that flows into the ocean.
So that’s swell and just to add a whole other level of horribleness. This area is rife with organized black market operations that exploit children and forced labor. There’s, a scene in the movie blade runner 2049, where you see a whole warehouse full of orphans.
Picking over e-waste yeah that dystopian future is is already happening so yay we’re ahead of schedule, and this can be lucrative. A metric ton of circuit boards can contain up to 30 to 40 times the amount of copper, as you would find in copper ore and up to 800 times as much in gold.
Each year over 320 tons of gold and over 7 500 tons of silver are put into electronic products around the world. That’s, a lot of precious metals out there, just waiting to be mined back out of our products, so yeah, just like people are risking their lives in dangerous conditions to get cobalt out of the ground at the beginning of a product’s life cycle, you’ll, find those exact same conditions on the back side of a product’s.
Life cycle. The only difference is on the back side. All those toxic chemicals do get into the water supply that then go into the oceans and get sent all around the world. It’s, not just limited to those unfortunate scrappers covered in toxic dust.
This is a global problem. Luckily, there have been some global efforts to do something about this. Internationally. There have been some conferences and treaties to try to get a handle on the e-waste problem.
The most notable one is known as the basil convention. This is where the basal action network that i talked about at the beginning of this article, that’s, that’s where they got their name, formerly known as the basil convention on the transboundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal, which, For unknown reasons is usually just shortened to the basil convention.
This was a u.n treaty that was signed in basil, switzerland in march of 1989.. Now the point of the basal convention was to reduce the amount of hazardous waste material moving across international boundaries, especially from rich countries to lesser developed, poorer countries.
So you know everything that’s happening right now. The treaty was ratified by 184 u.n member states, with only nine countries refusing to ratify it: those nine countries being east timor, fiji, grenada, haiti, san marino, the solomon islands, south sudan, tuvalu and the united states yeah a bunch of tiny islands that this treaty would not Affect in any way and the biggest producer of e-waste in the world, why do other countries in the world hate us? So much must be all our freedom, but maybe there’s, a silver lining here, because the computer companies took a look at all that sweet, scrapper money and decided they wanted in on this action that had the cadence of a joke.
But that’s, essentially the truth. The computer companies want to reclaim all that stuff. For the same reason, the scrappers do there’s, gold in them their devices, gold and valuable stuff that they’re, going to have to buy anyway for their future devices, so they might as well get it out of their old ones.
If there’s a way to do it without throwing human misery at it, so in 2015 apple revealed that they had recovered 2200 pounds of gold over 40 million dollars worth of gold from various iphones ipads and macs and whatnot, and they did it With a robot, a robot named daisy daisy is a new line of robots which can disassemble 15 different models of iphone at 200 phones an hour just like the robots that put them together.
Daisy takes them apart for every 100 000 iphone devices. Daisy has the potential to recover all of these precious metals. So if you & # 39, re wondering why apple started a trade-in program that’s, why the gold alone, if they recycled all the iphones they sold in 2018, would be almost worth.
130 million dollars and that’s, just gold and just iphones, when you add, in the cost of all those other metals. That number goes way higher now. Granite apple makes 56 billion dollars a year, but apparently they make enough from this to offer a buy back program.
Now, from what i can tell there’s, only one daisy robot right now, and that’s in austin texas, but apple has said that they want to get to the point where they basically have a closed system where they don’t have to mine for materials anymore, just pull it out of their old devices, and this is a start.
This was announced by apple’s, vp of environment policy and social initiatives. Lisa jackson, who previous to apple, had a small position as the head of the environmental protection agency under obama, so they might actually be taking this seriously.
Of course, it might be easier for apple to do this because they are so vertically integrated and they have a fewer number of products than you know, say samsung, but i’m, not sure why this couldn’t be universal.
I mean especially the phones just scan the serial number and then it would come up in the computer exactly what kind of phone it is. It could have all the schematics for it and everything, and then it could just do what it does.
I mean they can do it with an iphone. Why couldn’t they do it with a galaxy note, i mean at a high enough scale. Robots like this might be cheap enough to put into every recycling plant that’s just money, and there are some innovations in the works that might help with the fight like nanotechnology.
A company called inf has developed a process that passes electricity through carbon and filters to target and extract certain elements, elements like nickel and manganese cobalt and batteries, and neodymium and cell phone speakers.
The idea is that this is something that could be easily integrated into existing recycling plants, making them far more profitable, like eighty percent, more profitable and, of course, the more money you can make doing this, the more people are going to do it.
Another way to tackle this is with microbes in a process called biometallurgy mint is a company in new zealand that’s, engineering microbes that can pull precious metals out of a solution. Basically, they grind down the circuit boards to spend them in a solution containing these microbes and out of that, they can extract gold and copper.
Who would have thought genetic engineering would be part of the solution or sound waves for that matter? Ronan 8 is a company that uses low frequency, high amplitude sound waves to separate metals and circuit boards from the non-metals in a cheap and efficient manner, with more technologies, making the recovery of precious metals easier than ever before.
Could this be the new gold rush in the american gold rush people, uprooted their families and moved all the way across a continent just trying to find where the gold was the difference today? Is we know where the gold is? I also kind of wonder what the gold miners of the past would think if they knew that we were just literally throwing away gold all the time all right.
So let’s just say you’re, a human and you’re watching this article and you look around the room and you realize holy crap. Almost everything i have has some kind of electronic component in it, and i don’t want to be part of the problem.
Tell me joe, what do i do well, first of all, calm down. The first thing is, if it still works, and somebody else can get some kind of use out of it. Why not donate it here in the united states, people donate a lot of things to goodwill.
Well, goodwill actually has specifically a program for electronic waste, known as reconnect where they actually give it to refurbishment companies that put it in good shape and then donate it to communities that are underserved or could use it.
They’re, also more specific organizations, like cell phones for soldiers that obviously give cell phones to soldiers overseas to help them connect with their families. There’s, also gazelle.com, which will take and sometimes even buy your old cell phones or tablets, computers, whatnot and either sell them to somebody else or find a responsible recycler that will take care of it an appropriate way.
But if it’s easier for you to just go drop it off somewhere nearby check out estewards.com, this is actually an initiative by the bazel action network. You just enter your city and your zip code and e stewards will point you to a place that you can drop off that meets banned standards so that you know it’s going to be recycled appropriately and apple.
As i said before has a recycling program, i’ll, put the little website right there. Really all you do. Is you just put the serial number of your product into a field and then, if you can make some money off of it, they’ll, buy it from you.
If not they’ll. Just give you a little shipping label. You print out, and you just send it into them, and last but not least, you might just call up your local electronics store. Many of them do have recycling programs, and they do actually make an effort to do it responsibly.
Best buy is a good example. They actually say on their website that they don’t ship anything overseas. Now they have not been, you know, certified by ban or anything. But in the worst case scenario, it’s an option and if you really want to get serious about the problem of e-waste, maybe go to the bazel action network website and join the fight to create some kind of national standard for e-waste.
Because right now, one of the biggest problems in the united states is the whole patchwork of systems across all the states. And if you want to know just how patchwork we’re talking about here. Only 25 of the 50 states have any kind of e-waste laws at all, or maybe start talking about the u.
s actually getting on board with the bazel convention. Finally, talk to your representatives about it and the candidates running against them. It is an election year. After all, nothing else of importance going on right now, when it comes to e-waste and plastics in general, we tend to have a very out-of-sight out-of-mind attitude about it, but that doesn’t make it out of existence.
It’d, be nice. If it were true, but it’s, just not the future that we all want to live in is one where we get as close as possible to a closed system. One where you know products are designed with the end in mind and advancements in recycling make it possible to reclaim all the materials in it and put it right into a new product, and maybe we’ll, get there someday.
But for now it all just starts with awareness and just doing what we can to try to do the right thing with these gadgets, when we’re done with them, we need to go from being out of mind to being mindful, and if you Want to know more, i’ll, put links in the description down below, but let me ask you: have you ever taken apart an electronic device just to see how it works? If so, you might be curious enough to check out the computer science fundamentals class on brilliant, i mean all these electronic parts are there for a reason right in this course, you can get a handle on the basics of how computers work through 14 interactive quizzes.
That teach you everything about binary, search decision, trees, indexing and programming that you always wanted to know, but were too afraid to ask whether you’re, an experienced coder or a passive user.
This course will give you new insight into the devices that make our modern life possible. I mean seriously our entire life revolves around these things. It might not be a bad idea to have some basic understanding of how they work from there.
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