In 2002, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released the groundbreaking report and film Exporting Harm: The High Tech Trashing of Asia, that exposed the toxic “recycling” of discarded electronics in China. Images of men, women and children burning tons of toxic circuit boards, wires and plastic parts exposed the fast-cheap-and-dirty side of our consumption of computers, televisions, faxes, printers, etc.
A second report and film by BAN, released in 2005, The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa, showed similar tragic results in Lagos, Africa, this time in the name of ‘reuse’ and ‘bridging the digital divide.’ Communities in Africa seeking working equipment instead received shipments that were 50%-75% unusable. To dispose of them, people dumped and burned the majority of the 500 contaminated loads per months that arrived in Lagos. While in Lagos, BAN also bought hard drives from computers imported into Africa and found massive amounts of private data freely available for criminal exploitation.
In 2008, CBS 60 minutes ran this award winning documentary on the e-waste crisis that has been seen by 25 million viewers.
Use of prisoners to process e-waste generates its own set of problems. In 2006, the Center for Environmental Health and others released a report documenting toxic exposure in e-waste processing prisons to inmates, prison personnel and families. Meanwhile, the system was undercutting U.S. recyclers trying to do business the right way. In 2008, the Federal Occupational Health Service released a report documenting substantial problems in the protection of prisoners and prison personnel from e-waste toxics.
Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, is interviewed by Frontline regarding the Basel Convention.