Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.
With a huge problem like e-waste it is hard to know where to begin. Lets start by asking how much e-waste is exported. Seems simple enough. We can then decide if the exportation of e-waste should be of major concern.
The Basel Action Network (BAN) claims that the amount of e-waste being exported is big. In one of their videos, they vaguely implied that a lot of e-waste recyclers export the equipment they receive. They said, “plenty of companies…” “the vast majority…” and “all too often…” e-waste recyclers export computers. BAN also interviewed a politician in Nigeria who estimated that 75% of the computer equipment that comes into his country is not in good enough shape for use and is therefore e-waste.
But, for the most part, organizations such as Greenpeace acknowledge that there are no official figures on the amount of e-waste going to third world countries. I have also found this to be the case. The only number that the EPA has tracked is “61%” of CRTs are being exported for “refurbishment and remanufacturing.” But how much of this equipment qualifies as e-waste and how much is actually refurbished?
The lack of knowledge probably has to do with China’s ban on the import of e-waste so anything that comes in is illegal and therefore is not accounted for.
Guiyu China is the largest e-waste site in the world. It processes 1.5 million tons of e-waste annually according to the local government website. If 50% of this e-waste is from the USA and rest is from China (approximately 20%) and other countries, that means .75 million tons of e-waste is from the U.S. And if the total amount of e-waste generated by Americans is 3.01 million tons that would mean almost 25% of America’s e-waste is exported.
This amount would indeed be cause for significant concern. Unfortunately, all of these numbers are estimates so we have no way of knowing if the final amount is at all accurate. As we have said before on this blog, electronic waste is a relatively new problem and therefore lacks a lot of facts. As we continue to develop e-waste legislation we have to include the consideration of exportation because no matter the significance caused by the United States, ultimately, Guiyu is in great need of restoration.