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When is Recycling Bad for the Environment?


You must be thinking this is a typo. How could recycling be bad? Before I came to CCS I always bought OEM laser toner cartridges and I always sent the empties back to the manufacturer using their box and prepaid label. I felt pretty good about myself. After all, I was doing something for the environment!

I had quite a wake up call when I learned that most empty cartridges are ground up by the manufacture in an attempt to maintain a low supply of empties available to remanufacturers. No remans means that consumers must stick with OEM cartridges. Many printers are sold at or below cost. The manufacturers make their profit off the cartridges!

But what about the cartridges that are NOT ground up? Maybe you have someone that comes around and picks up your cartridges. Well, this is where it gets tricky. You have to make sure that the company to which you are entrusting our planet can they themselves be trusted. Many supposed "recyclers" in fact ship their empty cartridges and old electronics to the small town of Guiyu, China, where Environmental Protection is not enforced, if there are even any regulations at all.


As of 2011, Guiyu is listed as the world’s second most polluted location on Earth. Chelyabinsk-40 (an underground nuclear research facility) is the first.

http://inlinethumb37.webshots.com/18084/2456186650103582559S600x600Q85.jpgFrom: www.environmentalgraffiti.com Some workers go the river bank, located just outside the village, where they make small fires to heat an extremely toxic mixture dubbed Aqua Regia. It contains 75 per cent pure Hydrochloric Acid and 25 per cent pure Nitric acid. Using the mixture, workers try to extract the small amount of gold found within a number of electronic parts such as computer chips. This method is extremely harmful both to humans and environment, as it produces sulfur dioxide and chlorine. At best, protection comes in the form of only a pair of rubber boots or a pair of gloves; but many of the workers endure a day’s labor without any protection at all.

Others try to extract small remains of toner from the printer cartridges by using paint brushes, producing a toner dust clouds. In time, workers suffer respiratory problems, due to the carbon inside the dust clouds.

Printer cartridges were ripped apart for their toner and recyclable aluminum, steel, and plastic parts.


From: http://ban.org Dressed in a black cotton shirt, healthily tanned and with neatly cut hair, Tai is a specialist in the office-equipment game. His field of expertise is toner cartridges for printers and photocopier machines. He doesn't design the cartridges. He doesn't sell them or even install them. He smashes them to bits to salvage tiny amounts of residual toner. For this dirty, polluting task he might make RMB20 (HK$18) a day. For his troubles he might also be rewarded with respiratory and skin diseases, eye infections, even cancer. Printer cartridges are ripped apart for their toner and recyclable aluminum, steel and plastic parts.

At 7am every day, Tai Chunhua starts work among hills of printer cartridges at a roadside yard. On an average day he crouches among the e-waste until 5.30pm, breaking open printer cartridges with a screwdriver and using a paint brush to collect any toner he can find. Scratched by sharp metal or plastic components, his charcoal-black hands often bleed. "Many laborers suffer from allergies after working with the toner for a long time," he says. He wears no mask. "When the powder comes out, I stop breathing," he adds. That is his only defense.

According to Material Safety Data Sheets provided by Xerox and Canon, although carbon black and other toner ingredients are not intrinsically toxic, the BAN report states that they can cause lung and respiratory irritations. Other reports say carbon black is a possible human carcinogen. Xerox, Canon and other manufacturers stress that normal use of black toner will cause no health problems. BAN points out that what takes place in Guiyu could not be considered normal.

Poverty forced Tai down the pollution road. "Life in Jiangxi is very poor, there isn't much work to do," he says. "My family is poor, we don't have money - if we did I wouldn't have come here." He tries to make light of his toil. On opening a cartridge, the dark powder flutters up to his face. "It is minor matter, no problem," he says with a quick laugh!

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