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PBS Frontline uncovers the reality of electronics "recycling" as Western e-waste piles up in developing countries

In Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, PBS Frontline exposes the dumping of Western electronic waste across the developing world.

Ghana originally welcomed the containers full of old computers that began arriving from the West a few years ago, thinking the machines would help bridge the digital divide, but most of these "donations" have piled up in dumps of junk electronics known as e-waste, with huge environmental and health implications for the people who have to live around them. Kids in Ghana burn the plastic off of computers and sort through the rubble with magnets while women in China cook circuit boards for the trace amounts of gold inside and men in India stand over 55 gallon sulfuric acid baths, exposing themselves to immensely toxic fumes and chemicals for the small amount of money that can be collected from the scraps. Electronics that consumers in the West believe are recycled responsibly actually end up in these e-waste dumps in developing countries as irresponsible recyclers find it cheaper to send the waste abroad. And the most hazardous materials get sent to countries lacking environmental protections against them-- laws in China prevent CRT monitors monitors from ending up there, so a broker in Hong Kong advises the Frontline staff to send them to Vietnam.

I have volunteered with Free Geek, an organization here in Portland that takes in old electronic equipment from the community with the ultimate goal of building computers that needy volunteers can then adopt. After processing intakes at Free Geek, I can only imagine the hunks of junk we are "donating" to Ghana and other recipients of our e-waste-- most of the machines I came across were so obsolete as to render them useless beyond the tiny bits of gold that can be reclaimed and which accumulates to about an ounce per year at Free Geek in addition to disc batteries that keep internal computer clocks running and which can be used to power bicycle lights. Free Geek is committed to responsibly recycling the rest of the waste and has satellite organizations in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Orlando, Florida, Chicago, Illinois, Columbus, Ohio, South Bend, Indiana, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Providence, Rhode Island if you want to get involved. Or start your own chapter!

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