UN warns world could be swamped by electronic waste
The world faces being swamped with a tidal wave of electronic waste as sales of household gadgets boom over the next decade, according to a UN report.
Quite a simple reason.
Electronic waste is valuable. There\’s, quite literally, gold in them thar swamps. Plus all sorts of lovely stuff like tantalum, gallium, copper, tin, and in older stuff, lead.
The best way to treat it is really as a complex ore. And it\’s a complex ore that we know how to deal with. Offer me 10,000 tonnes of such waste and a free hand in how I process it and I\’ll make money.
Yes, I\’ll even make money without poisoning people or the environment.
Now, if you\’re going to bind me with the current near insane rules about what is \”poisoning the environment\”….for example, that glass containing lead is to be treated as if it is metallic lead….. then I cannot.
Because I cannot profit, that 10,000 tonnes of electronic waste does not have a value: so it is shipped off to where they don\’t have the near insane rules and thus it does have a value. However, those places without the insane rules are also those places with very cheap labour and very expensive capital.
So instead of our complex ore being treated in a capital heavy, lovely great big very hot furnace (one effect of which is that the dioxins that might be created from burning the computer boards themselves to get the copper and tin and lead out are consumed themselves in the heat) we get it being hand sorted and then burnt in open fires at low temperatures which pollutes the surrounding countryside. To say nothing of the lungs of all of that cheap labour.
What we have is a set of rules that attempt to make recycling perfect: which makes recycling that is good enough unprofitable. Which in turn means that we go from high tech good enough recycling to very much not good at all and highly polluting recycling where those perfect rules do not apply.
I ran through this whole exercise about 15 years ago. The City of London was entirely happy to pack up all their electronic waste and ship it to me in Moscow. I had access to labour that could disassemble, a market for those elderly parts that still worked (floppy drives, VGA cards and the like) and lovely great big furnaces to treat the rest as a complex ore.
The project failed when the paperwork rules became too onerous.