Reveal: America's digital dumping ground

Jan 10, 2017

On this hour of Reveal, we’ll examine how electronic waste recycling may start with good intentions but end in bad consequences.
Credit Helen Tseng for Reveal

You got that new computer or phone you wanted for the holidays – but what happens to your old gadgets?

They might not end up where you expect. 

On this episode of Reveal, we talk to environmentalists who’re following the global trail of America’s electronic castoffs. The U.S. is the most wasteful country in the world – Americans produce the most e-waste per person.

For some historical context on the effect this has had on the rest of the world, the Global Reporting Centre's Allison Griner tells us about the small Chinese town of Guiyu, which once gained international notoriety as a graveyard for American electronics.

The cost of recycling there was lower than in the U.S., but it took a higher toll on people’s health and the environment. For years, Guiyu was where many of our junked TVs, laptops, phones and other unwanted electronics ended up.

Once that stuff got there, workers dismantled it by hand and released poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere. Chinese and international environmentalists tried to stop this illegal and toxic business for years.

In 2015, they finally succeeded: The Chinese government said it no longer would allow e-waste from other countries into Guiyu. But did the government stick to its word? Griner travels to the small Chinese town to find out.

After Griner’s investigation, we look ahead and ask: What will happen to American e-waste under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration? We’ll hear from Walter Alcorn, environment and sustainability vice president for the Consumer Technology Association, the country’s leading trade group for the electronics industry.

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.For more, check out our website and subscribe to our podcast.

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