11. 28. 2006
The mixed blessing of donations
It's long been a tax dodge to donate obsolete electronics to charities for redistribution to those less fortunate, but according to the UN's Environment Programme those well meaning charitable donators may be contributing to environmental problems in the developing world. Recipients of recycled technology are reporting discard rates as high as 75% on occasion; many of the machines are damaged in shipping or were broken when originally donated. These machines release many dangerous compounds when disposed of in improper ways.
Lead, arsenic, mercury, and several radioactive compounds are released when the electronics are burned. Destruction by fire creates airborne particulates and dangerous fumes; the strong winds of the African plains can quickly spread the danger long distances.
The UN is calling for investigations into the effects of improper disposal, and urging member states to be self policing when it comes to shipping used electronics overseas. Despite their good intentions the UN won't be able to effectively fix the problem alone. The way to solve this problem is for manufacturers to build machines out of easily recycled nontoxic materials, and to develop cheap machines so the developing world won't be stuck with our hand-me-downs.