The Irrational Rationality of E-Waste Dumping

Really? That is my first reaction in reading the article “3 Reasons Why a Ban on E-Waste Exports is Wrong” by Eric Williams.  (Link)

Williams’ hard to believe reasoning:

1.Trade bans have negative economic and social impacts by cutting jobs in the refurbishment sector and reducing supply to used market.

His number one reason for why it would be wrong is because he is concerned about jobs in refurbishment?  I would think this was something funny enough to be written by the satirists at The Onion (link) if it was so upsetting that Discovery bothered to pick it up.

After traveling to India (link) and speaking with people who were living among the e-waste (not theorizing about the issues from a University), I came to the realization that there is plenty of e-waste in India and that they do not need ours. He says it helps to creates jobs for them but if the intention is to create jobs in India, then how about creating sustainable and safe jobs for them by building proper e-waste recycling facilities.  They should not be poisoned in the process in order to have jobs!

But Eric, how about jobs in the good ol’ U.S. of A? I mean, don’t we need jobs here? Couldn’t jobs be created here as well? As someone who cares deeply about the tragic impacts that Western nations have had on India, Nigeria and Ghana – I don’t think the solution is to poison them and ignore the fact that we need jobs here.

While, your justification that computers would help with education is true – it shows the lack of understanding that you have about a people who do not even have proper access to electricity, and where basic survival and the ability to feed themselves and their families is paramount to all else. There is a larger issue at hand and one that will not be even remotely solved by dumping our electronic waste on them.

Williams, don’t attempt to justify the dumping of millions of pounds of e-waste on poor people as being economically beneficial to them. Our dumping of e-waste is an embarrassment on the United States and we will only stop when we face this ugly truth. Using these people to justify our lack of understanding about the waste we create in our own country is shameful.

2. Trade bans push the backyard recycling towards the black market.

As I continue to read his article, I am amazed by his entire premise – he even blames China’s ban on e-waste for helping to grow organized crime. While his assertion may indeed be true, that organized crime is involved in these industries, to blame it on a ban intended to prevent toxic waste from being dumped on poor communities is ridiculous. Organized crime exists in every country, including our own and is created for a variety of reasons.

Corporations stepping up to the plate and creating e-waste recycling facilities in these countries is the responsible thing to do. They are the ones that are culpable.

3. Within a decade, more e-waste will be generated in the developing world  compared to the developed, waste without other interventions will be recycled with high environmental impacts.

Here Williams supports my point; why claim that there will not be jobs in these countries without our waste, when we know they will be generating plenty of e-waste on their own?And in the following quote, we almost agree; “The United States and other rich countries have a role to play in providing financial and technical support.”

There needs to be financial and technical support given to the countries that bear the burden of our waste, but it should come from corporations that are not bearing the responsibility.

This entire article amazes me, coming from a professor who teaches about sustainability issues, that nowhere does he talk about Extended Producer Responsibility.

I look forward to his next article on why children should learn to smoke at an early age so that it creates jobs for tobacco growers and those in cancer research – unless of course, The Onion beats him to it.