We ship 50 to 80 percent of the 300k to 400k tons of electronics that actually make it to recycling each year—out of 2 million tons tossed—overseas. The "recycling" part happens when workers in places China, Nigeria and India bust up old gear with hammers, gas burners or their bare hands to pull out metals, glass and "other recyclables," taking a toxic shower in the process. And the most likely stuff to make its way over there is what's collected at free drives.Event sponsors often take the cheapest hired gun they can find and don't ask questions about what's going where and how. The "recyclers" then turn around and hawk the wares, handing off what they can't sell to export brokers. And if they get busted, they just say they were selling secondhand goods to poor countries that need them.
The article-concluding solution propagated by Green Earth hippies actually makes sense: Make companies take back their own goods for recycling. Some companies already do, like Apple and Dell, and it's the law in eight states. Besides the obvious benefits, the hippies argue it'll push them to develop products with fewer dangerous chemicals, since the stuff will be back in their hands. It's better than the hands of underpaid, underprotected workers trying to scratch out a living. [CNN/AP, Flickr]