Old electronics don’t die, they pile up

Brazil, India, China and many others are e-waste graveyards

electronic waste
Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

The electronic waste industry is booming and not necessarily in a good way. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the US federal government discards some 10,000 computers per week and Pike Research says the number of electronic devices at end-of-life will double from 2010 to 2025. It is estimated that as much as 60 million tons of e-waste could end up as landfill. There are many efforts to stem the tide of course -- the European Commission recently said that by 2015 75% of e-waste must be recovered and 65% of it recycled (after 2020, 85% must be recycled). Here we take a look at where old electronics really go to die most of the time.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: Reuters/Stringer

An employee places a discarded monitor before disassembling it at the Coopermiti warehouse of electronic waste in Sao Paulo. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Brazil generates the greatest amount of electronic waste (e-waste) per capita among emerging countries. Coopermiti is an e-waste cooperative formed in 2010 that sorts through technological trash and develops solutions for breaking it down for the purposes of recycling. At the same time, Coopermiti offers opportunities for employment and environmental education for the community. About four tons of circuit boards, found amongst the e-waste, are sent to Dowa Holdings Co. Ltd. in Japan each month, from which rare metals may be recovered.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: REUTERS

Here a worker arranges discarded televisions at an electronic waste recycling factory in Wuhan, Hubei province. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), e-waste is the fastest growing commodity in the waste stream, with a growth rate five times that of other parts of the business such as industrial waste. The burgeoning middle classes in fast-growth China and India mean there are more computers and mobiles, adding to e-cycling growth.

e-waste
Credit: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Discarded mobile phones are seen as an employee disassembles them at the Coopermiti warehouse of electronic waste in Sao Paulo. According to UNEP, Brazil generates the greatest amount of electronic waste (e-waste) per capita among emerging countries.

electronic waste
Credit: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

An employee is reflected in a mirror as she disassembles a circuit board at the Coopermiti warehouse of electronic waste in Sao Paulo March 6, 2013.

recycling factories
Credit: REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Here discarded motherboards at one of Taiwan's largest recycling factories in Taoyuan county, northern Taiwan.

e-waste recycle factory
Credit: REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

Here we see an e-waste recycle factory at Mankhal, 55 km (34 miles) south of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad July 17, 2009.

monitors and computers for recycling
Credit: REUTERS/Kham

A garbage collector transports monitors and computers for recycling on a bicycle on a street in Hanoi.

recycling
Credit: REUTERS/Bruno Martin

The plastic shell of a French Minitel terminal moves on a conveyor belt as it is broken down for recycling in Portet-Sur-Garonne, southwestern France. The Minitel, the box-like terminal with a keyboard and monochrome screen, was introduced on the market in 1982 by telecommunications operator France Telecom and used by the French to get information as a phone directory or to purchase train tickets.

e-waste
Credit: REUTERS/Bruno Martin

A circuit board, screen and plastic front from a French Minitel terminal which are broken down and recycled. Although there were between 600,000 - 700,000 of the units still in use, the Minitel service ended on June 30, 2012.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: REUTERS

Workers sort batteries at an electronic waste recycling factory in Wuhan, Hubei province. China's renewable energy strategy through 2050 envisions renewable energy making up one-third of its energy consumption by then, the China Daily said, as the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change highlights the world's dependence on fossil fuels. The Chinese characters on the board read "Storage area for used Ni-Cd batteries".

recycling facility
Credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

A worker holds one of scrap mobile phones, at a recycling facility of Re-Tem Corp, in Tokyo. Re-Tem Corp researches and develops the recycling of rare Earth metals vital to the production of electronics. Japanese high-tech companies face higher input costs for rare Earth metals as dominant supplier China curbs exports.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: Reuters

Here a worker carries a discarded television at an electronic waste recycling factory in Hefei, Anhui province.

urban mining
Credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A worker scoops industrial scrap materials, collected from discarded electronic items, at Dowa Holdings Co's Eco-System Recycling Co, a recycling plant, in Honjo, north of Tokyo. Thinking of throwing out your old cell phone? Think again. Maybe you should mine it first for gold, silver, copper and a host of other metals embedded in the electronics -- many of which are enjoying near-record prices. It's called "urban mining", scavenging through the scrap metal in old electronic products in search of such gems as iridium and gold, and it is a growth industry around the world as metal prices skyrocket.

discarded computers
Credit: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

An employee selects parts of discarded computers in the recycling department of Itautec SA, in Jundiai. According to the Brazilian company which manufactures consumer electronics, ATM machines and provides IT solutions, actively recycles e-waste.

e-waste recycle factory
Credit: REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

Technicians dismantle Xerox machines inside an e-waste recycle factory at Mankhal, 55 km (34 miles) south of the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

An employee arranges discarded computers at a newly opened electronic waste recycling factory in Wuhan, Hubei province. According to the EPA, e-waste is the fastest growing commodity in the waste stream, with a growth rate five times that of other parts of the business such as industrial waste.

discarded electronic equipment
Credit: REUTERS/John Javellana

Children sort through discarded electronic equipment in search of copper parts to be sold to junk shops for cash inside a slum area in Manila's financial district.

discarded electronic items
Credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A worker pours molten gold, recycled from components of mobile phones and other discarded electronic items, into a mold at Dowa Holdings Co's Eco-System Recycling Co.

recycled floppy disks
Credit: REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

Romanian actor Alin Teglas shows a lamp he made from recycled floppy disks in his kitchen, which has been turned into a workshop, inside his flat in Bucharest. Teglas, said he uses used computer parts to make by hand fashion accessories and lighting devices as a tribute to the computer on which he composes electronic music.

recycling factories
Credit: REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

A man walks past discarded computer parts at one of Taiwan's largest recycling factories in Taoyuan county, northern Taiwan.

recycling facility
Credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

CPU chips are seen at a recycling facility of Re-Tem Corp in Tokyo. Re-Tem Corp researches and develops the recycling of rare Earth metals vital to the production of electronics.

recycling plant
Credit: REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Obsolete computer monitors are piled up at a recycling plant in Buenos Aires.