My takeway is the faster/smaller/cheaper ethic of Moore's Law in developing countries drives this e-waster build up, and it seems there hasn't been enough attention to just how fast its rising, where it's going and what can be done about it.
Rick, African countries appear to bear the brunt of the e-waste problem, NOT because they are benefitting from Moore's law, but because the e-waste is shipped to them. The article said that the "used goods" shipped to Africa are mostly non-functional, and therefore are misclassified, to avoid the costs of legitimate recycling.
You can turn in used electronic products at Best Buy stores, for instance. I thought those products were being recycled. This article implies that instead, they may be shipped to developing countries that have a significant "middle class," where they are refurbished and actually reused. Interesting. That's news to me.
Bert, you are quite correct that many developing nations are bearing the brunt of these eWaste. Often lax local regulations and graft from politicians & businesses also have a hand in this play.
One thing governments can do is to provide incentives to recycle and reuse the parts by the same companies that produce them in the first place. I know this is easier said and harder to implement given the chronic off-shoring of hardware manufacturing. There needs to be a model in parts pricing that can make this happen... I do realize many sellers collect recycling fee when one buys an electronic appliance but I wonder how these funds are really used.
@docdivakar: You might be aware of the situation in India. If not, the following link of an article and the associated comments might help. The realization of the problem and building the awareness just have started here but a far way to go, to catch up with the pace at which the e-waste is building up here. As you have said, the governments has a huge stake in making some kind of regulation and creating infrastructure for collecting e-waste (which is a major pain here now) and taking appropriate action. And some kind of initiatives to the users so as to motivate people to deposit their e-waste through the authentic channels. I believe this could be done through private/public partnership as well once the regulations are in place.
@Sanjib: thanks for the info and I am relieved to know a process is now in place for recycling eWaste in India. My comment below is a generic one and was not addressing any country in particular. I have seen dumping sites in Mexico not too far from US border where eWaste meant for 'recycling' find their resting place! I have also seen similar sites in many Asian countries. I am sure there are plenty of examples like this all over the world, sadly.
We may do what we think is right, taking our used electronics to a major retailer for recycling, but we can't help what happens to them after that. If in fact they are re-purposed in developing nations, that's great. If they are non-functional and are simply recycled for recovery of their valuable ingredients, that's also great. It's only when they are simply thrown in a landfill as-is that the evironment suffers a disservice.
I think the environment suffers a disservice is an understatement. This is becoming a huge environmental issue, not to mention an issue with regard to the welfare of the people living in those regions which ultimately is inextricably intertwined with the welfare of their environment.
This article talks about "the worst-case scenario" in which sending used electronic products to developing countries for disassembly could be harmful to the health of the people doing the disassembly.
Another big issue, however, is that this could become a fertile ground for counterfeit components. Non-working chips recovered from eWaste could be easily manipulated and pitched as new chips for mobile phones.
The prime resonsibility for taking care of eWaste in places like India rests with the Indian government. There must, nhowever, be international cooperation between governments of countries on opposite ends of these eWaste flows. Until that cooperation is in place, it is difficult to not only track the waste but ultimately reduce it.
Recycling seems to be schizophrenic. On the one hand we have sophisticated recycling companies that take electronic devices, break them down into components, extract valuable materials, and produce a range of raw materials for use in production of new products. On the other hand, in the Connecticut town where I live, styrofoam cannot be recycled. As a "pure" easily reprocessed compound that is produced in large quantities, that seems quite surprising. For chain of custody and environmental reasons, I'd encourage recycling into raw materials to be done domestically where it is subject to environment regulations and oversight. We shouldn't have the gold in our cell phones being extracted with mercury over a wood burning stove by rural families in emerging countries.
It is difficult to develop any consistency in the recycling habits of the world's population. But here we get the added incentive to do so because of the dangers involved in eWaste, not to mention, as Junko pointed out, the dangers of counterfeit chipmaking.