E-Waste Recycling: Families Living on Electronic ‘Trash’ in China

e-waste recycling china photo

According to a recent United Nations report, China has become the e-waste dumping ground of the world. It’s second only to the U.S. in the amount of electronic trash made up of refrigerators, old laptops, computers, and televisions that get dumped there every year. In a village outside of Beijing, families depend on e-waste recycling to make a living.

Dongxiaokou village is a hub for e-waste recycling. Villagers collect the trash, including old air conditioners, televisions, and refrigerators from Beijing and bring their finds back to Dongxiaokou to be broken down. Several hundred families gather e-waste, but no one knows how many for sure because much of it is done by undocumented migrant workers.

According to CNN, “Many of these gadgets were initially manufactured in China. Through a strange twist of global economics, much of this electronic junk returns to China to die.” The e-waste is taken apart and fixed before being sold to wholesale dealers for resale. If they cannot be fixed, they’re beaten apart with hammer and axe and then sold for scraps. Families can earn about $8 for an air conditioner, a tiny amount for an abundance of work.

Such wide scale e-waste recycling contaminates both the workers and the village itself. The small village stream has been polluted with toxins from breaking down old appliances and children play amongst heaps of trash. According to The Washington Post, “Those in the business in Dongxiaokou grapple with poor infrastructure and sanitation facilities, in addition to dangers associated with handling the waste. The village is now facing demolition as part of an urbanization plan, and residents are worried about losing their homes and work.”

When such recycling is done without the proper equipment and safety protocols in place, it can have damaging repercussions, but for these villagers, there is just no other way to make a living.

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Image: Mosman Council