Think about this:
Each year, between 20 and 50 million tons of electronic waste is generated globally. Most of it winds up in the developing world.
Some of the most popular destinations for dumping computer hardware include China, India, and Nigeria. It can be 10 times cheaper for a “recycler” to ship waste to China than to dispose of it properly at home. With the market for e-waste expected to top $11 billion by 2009, it’s lucrative to dump on the developing world.
The silver lining behind this mess is that recycling the e-waste is big business:
Computers are much more than just wires and plastic; they are also a source of highly valuable metals, including gold, copper, and aluminum. One ton of computer scrap contains more gold than 17 tons of gold ore. Circuit boards can be 40 times richer in copper than typical copper ore. For this reason, workers in e-waste dumps in the southern Chinese city of Guiyu carefully sort the computers’ hardware and melt down the most valuable parts.
However, melting down the metals releases toxic chemicals into the environment and there isn’t any incentive to find a safer and more environmentally friendly way at this point. Check out the slide show and the rest of the story here, which I found via Slashdot.