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Friday, August 3rd, 2007, 7:31 am

Exploiting the Poor and Then Throwing Garbage at Them

Articles like this can really make you sad (or angry). The world continues its mad upgrade cycle and dumps its trash onto less fortunate people, whose health is in turn compromised. This deserves wider coverage in the mainstream media, which ought to feel very guilty.

Do you know what happens to your used computer equipment after it has been discarded? The answer may surprise you. Even if you have tried to recycle it, your old hardware often gets shipped to a developing nation in direct violation of international law. Useful components are then extracted — without safety precautions — by locals earning pennies a day and who are exposed to a range of hazardous toxins that include lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants.

Though slated to be banned over a decade ago, the practice continues and seems to be growing. North America, Japan, and South Korea are among the worst offenders. Solutions exist, and free software is a small part of them, but implementing them remains a painfully slow process.

Except for small groups like the Seattle-based Basel Action Network, almost no organization is investigating the situation, nor are governments and recyclers eager to advertise what amounts to an illegal trade. Given the minimal coverage from mainstream media, few people are aware that the problem even exists.

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