Shipping phones abroad exposes risk
Some electronics recyclers in the United States and other developed countries cut corners by shipping old electronics to developing countries where they are scavenged for resources and discarded.
According to the 2011 annual report from the United Nations initiative, "Solving the E-Waste Problem," or StEP, "Such informal recycling often takes place under the most primitive of conditions, with unprotected workers, often children, being exposed to dangerous chemicals and facing extensive health dangers. ... E-waste recycling and disposal practices found in places such as China, India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ghana and Pakistan include open burning of plastics, exposure to toxic solders, leakages of acids into rivers and general dumping of waste material."
It's estimated that this is the fate of 50 percent to 80 percent of all "recycled" electronics in the U.S., according to Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.
"It's nearly impossible to get a firm number on the amount of phones shipped overseas from the U.S. This is mainly due to a larger problem of capturing what is in the waste stream," says Casey Harrell, a former campaigner for Greenpeace International.
In 2011, a bill that would have restricted exporting e-waste to developing countries was introduced in the House and Senate, where it was buried in committees.