Two More Controversial Electronics Recycling Practices

Greenpeace video - But Don't finger them
The ten worst "e-waste" recycling practices in Africa (March 5) is the highest read post of the year.  The pan-African Conference on WEEE in March (WR3A sent 3 representatives) generated a lot of interest in fair trade recycling.

Africans have inherited piles of junk electronics from decades of use (places like Lagos and Yaounde have had television since I lived there in the 1980s).   The "stuff" at Agbogbloshie was in use for years, traded in from residents in cities like Accra and Lagos for something "gently used" off the boat from Europe.

Still, the challenge of "Fair Trade Recycing" is to make recycling exports better, and to address export problems as soon as we see them.. We have to add two more environmental practices to the discussion of "exporting harm".

- mercury lamp recycling from the backplates of LCD screens
- electronics plastic recycling

The problem is, while the pollution from these activities occurs in Africa, South America, and China, it comes from our best recyclers... from R2 and E-Stewards alike.  At least with plastic recycling, there is no debate.  No one claims not to export scrap plastic, and no one has shown up close what that market looks like.

mercury CCFL
For that reason, this will not be a popular thing to write about... The issue must be handled with care.  When "E" stands for "Epic Fail", we don't want to feed the anti-environmentalist, climate-denying, trolls.

But it's better when we as environmentalists get out in front of the problem, rather than wait for a journalist to write a gotcha-man-bit-dog anti-recycling story.  My theme is that we have more confidence in professions, like medicine, which announce on their own that a treatment may do more harm than good, because they have research universities studying human health on a long term basis.

Tomorrow, Part 2:  Mercury lamp recycling from LCDs.

Just a peek at the good news - in LCD lamp recycling, and in plastic recycling, the more it is done by hand, the better the outcome.  If you are studying for your E-Waste Recycling S.A.T.,  "shredding machines are to lamp and plastic recycling as RoboCop nemesis Ed 209 is to stairs..."

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