Where has all the e-waste gone?


Next door, of course.

For years, China took in much of the world’s electronic refuse. Then in 2018, Beijing closed its borders to foreign e-waste, because it was poisoning its land and people.

E-waste ban? No problems

E-waste has to go somewhere, so whoever was importing it into China, including Chinese firms, simply moved their entire operations to Southeast Asia. These days, Thailand and other countries host an e-waste industry that is booming, because:

  • “Every circuit and every cable is very lucrative, especially if there is no concern for the environment or for workers”
  • “The only way to make money is to get huge volume with cheap, illegal labor and pollute the hell out of the environment”
Where has all the e-waste gone? /img/e-waste-goes-to-thailand.jpg

In 2018, Thailand banned the import of foreign e-waste. In practice, local authorities in Thailand and neighboring countries are unable to stop these mountains of trash coming from abroad, or their illegal, highly toxic recycling.

“All we know is that it stinks”

The result is that the people who work or live nearby the places where our smartphones, tablets and smart TVs go to die are now seriously worried for their health, when they are not already sick. They have no idea what is in the smoke that comes out of the recycling centers: “plastic, metal, who knows? All they know is that it stinks and they feel sick”.

Of course they do. Unless they are incinerated properly, some electronic components can cause cancer and developmental problems, and infiltrate the food supply, soil and groundwater.

Why don’t you…

The first cause of this mess is obvious: consumers, mostly but not exclusively in Western countries, who throw away their electronic devices way too often, just out of fashion, piling up to 50 million tons of e-waste every year. Even more obvious is the question coming from Thailand anti-e-waste activists:

“Why don’t you in the West recycle your own waste?

(For more about the growing problem of e-waste in South-East Asia, see here)

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