Earlier this month the Boston Globe published a story about 9 truck-size shipping containers filled with old televisions from a Massachusetts recycling firm, that were seized by local port officials. These containers were initially sent to Indonesia for “re-use” or “recycle”, which in theory seems to be a globally sustainable resource exchange practice.
“E-waste” (electronic), categorized as a regulated or universal waste by the EPA, consists of everything from televisions, computer scrap, batteries, and in some cases mercury containing devices. The issue at hand with the export of this material overseas is that this E-waste contains toxins, that when not processed properly, pose serious health risks to humans.
This E-waste is certainly picked for all of the re-usable metals and components from countries that lack these natural resources, and yield far higher value overseas than here domestically. The horrific downside of this practice is that the process of recycling is sometimes nothing more than manual dismantle, without any personal protective equipment or regard for potential environmental impacts. Recently, 60 Minutes’-“The Wasteland” actually investigated one of these E-scrap towns in China which resembled what could be described as a post-apocalyptic environment, with a constant toxic fog and extremely contaminated water.
Ultimately these 9 containers were turned back by the Indonesian government on a tip from a U.S. based environmental group (BASEL), seized by the local port authority, and investigated by the U.S. EPA. The United States has not ratified the Basel Convention treaty, a 172-nation pact to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed countries to less-developed ones.