Last night’s 60 Minutes featured an important story about a town in China that has become a dumping ground for “recycled” electronics. Their reporters did some great undercover work, and managed to get physically assaulted in the process. You can view the segment below, or on CBS’s website.
This situation is disgraceful all around – from the American companies covertly shipping this electronic waste overseas, to the local Chinese government actively enabling this practice, to all of us consumers who demand “shiny and new” and then conveniently forget about what happens to our old computer, TV, mobile phone, or iPod after we toss it into the trash.
I’m not holding much short-term hope for reform and oversight on the Chinese part of this problem, so our best bet at fixing this is on the supply side. We need to severely punish the companies illegally sending this waste across the ocean, but more importantly, consumers need to have a stake in this process too. Retailers and manufacturers should have official recycling programs in place to make it as easy, or easier, to drop items off for recycling as it is to through them in the trash.
The costs of waste disposal and recycling should be embedded in the up-front price of a computer, video game system, television, etc. They’re already there, but instead of taking responsibility for them, we get Low Low Prices™ and let Chinese children pay through lead poisoning and a toxic living environment.