Your Editorial “Steering the future of computing” (Nature 440, 383; 200610.1038/440383a) explores the future potential of the computing industry. Interesting though this is, I am concerned by the millions of tonnes of electronic waste generated by the computer industry in the United States and other developed countries each year, much of which is being shipped for recycling in developing countries such as India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Cheap labour and weak environmental standards and law enforcement in developing countries attract high-tech garbage-dumping in the name of recycling. Old computers are being dumped or burned in irrigation canals and waterways across Asia, where they are releasing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants that pose serious health hazards to local people and the natural environment.
The 1989 Basel Convention, restricting the transfer of hazardous waste, has been ratified by all developed countries except the United States — which, according to the environmentalist report Exporting Harm (see http://www.svtc.org/cleancc/pubs/technotrash.htm), exports 50–80% of its computer waste. Many nations, including the European Union, have gone further and ratified an amendment banning all export of hazardous waste to developing countries. Those who have not should do more towards finding solutions for the safe disposal of accumulated hazardous waste on their own territory.
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Human Ecology (2009)