The dark side of electronic waste recycling

– [Jim] They had a place
where they’d store it right under our noses. They just thought they could
get away with it forever, and they could have if it
hadn’t been for those trackers. (Jim laughs) – [Reporter] Right now,
you’re watching this on an electronic device. Do you ever think about where it’ll end up when you’re done with it? Many devices contain toxic materials and should be recycled very carefully. Sadly, lots end up in landfills but even if you’re diligent
and give your electronic waste, or e-waste, to a recycler,
that’s no guarantee about what happens next. American recyclers often ship it overseas, frequently to countries in Southern Asia. There, workers take apart
toxic material by hand, often without proper safety measures, and US policy lets it happen. But thanks to one small nonprofit, not everyone gets away with it. – That means they’re really worried about our program, probably. (idyllic music) – So we usually wanna put our tracker somewhere where it’ll be nice to fit in. So, for example, right
here is a good spot. – [Reporter] We’re at the
office of the Basel Action Network, or BAN, a nonprofit
group that’s dedicated to following the e-waste
trade around the world. BAN installs secret GPS
trackers in electronics and then drops them off at recyclers to see where they end up. Jim Puckett is the founder
and director of BAN. – In the late 1980s, way back when, there was a rash, an
epidemic, of people exporting their hazardous waste
to developing countries rather than properly managing it at home ’cause it was difficult,
poisonous stuff, right? So people said, “Oh hell,
we’ll just use ships out there, “and free trade, and go
ahead and export it.” – [Reporter] Americans
throw out millions of tons of electronics every year, and export abroad is still a big problem. Take for instance, LCD
monitors that contain mercury. If a worker, in say Hong Kong, smashes it, poisonous vapor can be
released into the air. Workers dismantling electronics
can get severely sick and even die. A 1989 treaty called the Basel Convention does regulate the export of e-waste but the US has never ratified it, and a provision that would stop countries from sending e-waste to
many developing nations isn’t in effect. – The US has been remiss
for many years now, for about 20 some years, particularly environmental treaties. – [Reporter] So there’s very little stopping American recyclers from dumping their electronics abroad until BAN gets involved. – And so the tracker will go here. This board will end up going right about there so it still looks like a
normal piece of electronic. – [Reporter] Without federal e-waste laws, BAN’s tracking system
is one of the only ways for businesses and governments to find out who they wanna work with. After we bugged this monitor,
we made plans to drop it at a local recycler. – This is the loading dock where you will be walking
up to and delivering it. – What do you say when you
walk up to the counter? – “We have something to
deliver for you guys. “Here’s an old monitor.” Just act like a customer, and that’s it! (classical string music) – [Reporter] This recycler,
which we’re not naming, has been caught exporting
waste in the past, and BAN wants to check up on them. – Hi!
– Yeah, he’s dropping it off for recycling. – [Recycler] Yeah, would
you like a receipt? – [BAN Employee] Yes, please. – [Recycler] That’d be
an email right up here. – [BAN Employee] Okay. It’s that easy. – [Reporter] It was incredibly easy. What email address did you put in? – [BAN Employee] My
personal email address. – [Reporter] Okay. – [BAN Employee] Not my work
email address (chuckles) – [Reporter] (laughs) I was gonna say! Afterwards, BAN set me up
with their in-house software called EarthEye so I could
follow the monitor’s trail. As we were working on this video, I could see it had traveled
miles outside of Seattle to an e-waste processing facility. (sullen ambient music) Using EarthEye, BAN has
tracked the spread of e-waste all over the planet. – We have two trackers here,
one that ended up in Hong Kong and one that ended up in Thailand. As we zoom in, it just
looks like a farmland. Keep zooming in and you see all this trash right here. This black part is, I
believe, from the sludge from actually burning and
handling this material. – [Reporter] Again, exporting electronics is not against the law in the US but with the help of investigators, BAN has still managed to
send some unethical recyclers to prison. (somber ambient music) – [Jim] Wow, the Total
Reclaim story goes way back. – [Reporter] In 2002, BAN
produced a documentary about e-waste exported to China, and they interviewed recyclers
about their practices. – And the only one that would talk to us was Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim. And we put him in our
film as being a good guy that was concerned about the export, that he still had to do some exporting but he didn’t like to do it. – [Reporter] The local
Seattle recycler Total Reclaim eventually signed on to
BAN’s certification program, meaning they pledged to recycle ethically. – So he became, over the years, our poster child of the good recycler. – [Reporter] Lorch even
appeared in the BAN documentary complaining about unprincipled recyclers. – You’re charging on the front side, you’re selling the material
on the back side offshore, you don’t do any work in-between, you just arrange to have the material loaded into a shipping
container and shipped. It’s all about the money. – [Reporter] But in 2015, while
working on tracking report, BAN noticed waste flowing
from Oregon to Total Reclaim in Washington. It made its way to Seattle’s
industrial Harbor Island, only about three miles from BAN’s office. – We’re just really so close it’s amazing. – [Reporter] Then the
tracker crossed the Pacific to Hong Kong. – And we were shocked. We were just like, “Whoa! “These things do not lie. “What’s going on with Total Reclaim, “our poster child of the good guys?” – [Reporter] BAN’s
report drew the atteniton of state and federal investigators. As Assistant US Attorney
Seth Wilkinson explains, Total Reclaim broke the law
by lying to their customers. – In this case, we
don’t have a federal law that specifically prohibits
sending things overseas, sending this material overseas. What we do have is federal
laws that makes it illegal to commit fraud, to make
material misrepresentations about something in order to get money. – [Reporter] And the more
digging investigators did, the more fabrications that turned up. – Total Reclaim initially said, “Oh, there must be some mistake. “We don’t send flat-screen
monitors to Asia.” And they said, “What we do do
is we send plastic to Asia.” And they said, “What must have happened “is that one of the GPS
devices must have fallen out “of a monitor, fallen
into a bin of plastic, “and been transported over to Asia.” And to back that false narrative up, they created a bunch of false documents. – [Reporter] Puckett traveled to Hong Kong where he found Total Reclaim’s
discarded LCD monitors and workers who could have
been poisoned by them. Eventually, Total Reclaim fessed up and the founders were
ultimately charged with fraud. – [Seth] The defendants
are charged with one count of conspiracy in violation of
Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. – [Reporter] The founders
agreed to a plea deal and were each sentenced
to 28 months in prison. So BAN’s system worked, although for Puckett, it
hardly felt like a relief. – Probably one of the
most troubling things I’ve experienced in this business of being an advocate
was getting a real ally and then find out that
you’re betrayed by that ally. – [Reporter] It’d be hard to picture just how much of this stuff
recyclers have to deal with so we visited a local business
called Friendly Earth, which says it’s trying to
handle the work repsonsibly like Total Reclaim was supposed to. This is what it looks
like when you first get– – This is, yeah, this is– – It looks like a mess. (laughs) – A pretty good example of it. You’re gonna see a mix
of loose circuit boards, (pleasant electronic music) plenty of wire, plenty of
cabling, maybe a desktop or two. This one looks like it’s seen better days. – [Reporter] The company
takes in thousands of pounds of electronics a day around Washington. It refurbishes what it
can and sends the rest to other companies to
be broken down further. – We are small in comparison
to a lot of the recyclers out there that have shredders, or fleet of 20 to 30 trucks, or maybe seven to 10, 12, 15
locations across the world. We’re growing but we’re
growing organically and we’re doing it the right way. (hat-wearing woman speaks
in foreign language) – [Reporter] For a lot of Americans, the effects of e-waste
can seem so far away that they’re hard to grasp but the way our electronics
are recycled matters. Federal legislation to
reform e-waste exporting has been on the table for
years but keeps slipping away. Meanwhile, the damage
that’s happening is real. – Pollution, it does harm people. Nobody quantifies it, and
it’s really hard to quantify how many deaths or disease but it is a form of murder. When people die from this,
and they all die prematurely, the data supports the
fact that these pollutants do cause death and disease. – [Reporter] By contrast, proper recycling is more expensive but it is doable. So by the numbers, none of
this really had to happen. – Each of the owners of Total Reclaim took home almost $8 million in income over the period that this was going on. It woulda cost about $2.5 million for them to do this properly so perhaps instead of
each of them making eight, they would’ve made $6.5 million each. (discordant ambient music)

100 comments on “The dark side of electronic waste recycling”

  1. Verge Science says:

    Do you recycle your electronic waste?

  2. Sad Toast says:

    Puckett fix it in post

  3. TheBeybladeSport says:

    This is what american science has done. We Indians are better

  4. Martijn van Stiphout says:

    What a shit voice

  5. Elements The Producer says:

    Love the video, but I hate your voice dude I’m sorry. It bothers me

  6. THEBIGMEOW says:

    The Problem is Educated 1st world people that don't care.

  7. Gabriel A says:

    is there a list of poper e-waste recylers?

  8. Madhav D Nair says:

    Now we know why the US is clean and India is Dirty!

  9. Dogrich Heinwoof says:

    This is just another reason to keep your old electronics. I always kept my old stuff in case i needed a spare part or wanted to give someone a new device (say someone lost there phone and can't buy a new one at that moment) and this just a better reason for me to keep on doing it.

  10. unstoppableExodia says:

    If what that prosecutor says is true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, then the owners of total reclaim went to jail for two million when they could have done the right thing and be free to enjoy the 6 million they could have made legitimately. Fucking greedy wankers. No sympathy for them.

  11. badmanners says:

    That calculation at the end

  12. hairlesheep says:

    I've picked up a lot of monitors and tvs only to have little work needed to get them back into people's homes and offices. Seriously, if an electronic fails, most of the time its a small issue in one of the board(s) that requires little effort to fix. I had a brand new HP laptop that had a ground fault issue and only needed a capacitor on the board replaced. I did it the work myself at no cost and sold it. Its not about the money for me but simply knowing that a huge chunk of metal and plastic isn't going into the environment all because of a small chip or capacitor.

  13. Jesqueel says:

    Really good and well made video. A big thumps up from me 🙂

  14. Jeramiah Brown says:

    The narrator is Mr. Beast

  15. Sandeep Kumar says:

    China wants to Hong Kongers to fall sick.

  16. Jayakrishna Balaji says:

    I wonder how Chinese deal with their e-waste though?
    Should be a mind-blowing investigation!

  17. Transolve says:

    If only manufactures didnt make poor hardware designed to fail and hard to repair.

  18. YoYoMA _ says:


  19. TUSH4R451 says:

    Die due to poisonous waste or die because you can't afford food and clean drinking water

  20. Billy William says:

    So basically you want developing countries to stay undeveloped, and their people poor and starving…

  21. kyokuten says:

    Instead of 8 they would have made 5.5 million each*

  22. Jeremy Travis says:

    You would think in this day and age that the western counties that have the expertise should deal with the waste at home. 
    If needbee charge a levy on good that are sold.

  23. Dani kris says:

    Disclaimer: This is an imaginary logic puzzle. Please keep the comments civil.

    Question: Why send the hazardous E-waste abroad from the US, and if you can, to China?

    Answer: If the US military is smart, they can call it 'hybrid warfare'. The US exports hazardous E-waste to China (the rising global competitor) so that the pollution damages China's youth, reducing future possibilities of an aggressive China since it'll be too busy caring for its sick future. The best part? it's legal. So no allegation of spying can be done. If this is really the case then thumbs up for military strategy, but thumbs down for humanity.

  24. Marc Celis says:

    Well we already re located the production hazard there then proudly stating how we reduce pollution and greenhouse gas within our countries… and anyone is surprised we send the waste? No moral value… not only that is criminal we also forgot that all the consequences wont have any border… it will hit us all

  25. Christopher Lewis says:

    Meanwhile Apple and others work to make sure you can't fix your device only replace it.

  26. Naiuhz says:

    What's with America's obsession with suing each other and giving prison sentences to nonviolent crimes like these.
    More likely, state/federal law makers rarely think about what prison life is actually like.

  27. Epicstaches says:

    Rip me I often end up breaking the LCD light bars on accident every so often while recycling. I try my best not to and often am in the outdoors but I really should wear a mask and have a fume hood. But what gets me is they put it on the board right, not on the screen part which contains the harmful mercury in florecent tubes like you have in the kitchen. Is the battery acid and stuff safe? Probably not but those are much harder to break than those tubes

  28. Mr. S Chowdhuri says:

    US needs to understand that they are not the world police and can't do whatever they feel like.

  29. MikeCharlieAlpha says:

    Why does the narrator sound so androgynous?

  30. Thomas M says:

    I think this video has a sly motive, it glaringly leaves out the fact that we can export it because there are vendors in Asia that are buying this junk to strip the parts. I mean just use common sense, every country has customs and border control, u can not simply export something without permission. So this is a sly attempt to fit the news to a certain agenda

  31. Ur MOM says:

    I keep my old tech in a box in the basement

  32. Dystar 924 says:

    "You wanted to buy something really pro, as you paced the center intelligence agency for awhile, then you would find that it was also a piece of recycled materials assembled at Taiwan after Ryoku Island was listed by Ryanair and didn't met the requirements by some folk over Craiglist…" 🗨😏🔖💻🍎♨️📃🎭🌌

  33. Stewie Griffin says:

    2018: Your old phone is a veritable gold mine
    2019: The dark side of electronic waste recycling

  34. Say my name? Harambe says:

    Its just like hospitals, theres not a lot of profit thats why businesses dont bat an eye on it. Unless enforced it wont really make a difference.

  35. Claudius says:

    croaky millennial noises

    Yeah, so, another round of bullcrap?

  36. john turner says:

    Wow. Americans sending tracking devices abroad. Imagine if China did that? Oh wait……..

  37. AFallingTree says:

    As an Ewaste specialist myself I do what I can to minimize Ewaste coming from New Zealand. A tip for anyone else in the industry is to up-cycle PCs which can still be used for light workloads like word processing and sell it on the cheap to those who may need an upgrade from their ancient systems, that way your doing good for both your community and the planet.

  38. jony johan says:

    Why not manufacture a AI robot that can recycle electronics ?

  39. Vlad Razym says:

    China then resell half of your used parts on aliexpress

  40. McNulty Method says:

    I hate when people talk like the narrator. It sounds like they just got done talking for 24 hours straight then decided it was a good idea to voice record.

  41. Joe O says:

    Really, the only fix that will work for this is to get the electronics producers on the hook for proper disposal. Then funding is take care – built into the system AND product designers will be incentivized to make products that can be more easily recycled – something that is not even on the list of consideration for design.

  42. gtkall says:

    One more day of "I can't believe it's 2019 and this shit is still legal!"

  43. peterking2000 says:

    Still… these e wastes are not as toxic as League of Legends community

  44. GeneralKnife says:

    Western nations keep shipping wastes to the other developing countries and then criticize those countries for generating waste instead of managing their own waste properly. Instead of helping other countries in waste management we put the blame on them.

  45. Damien Tong says:

    Don't care where it goes if it's replaced by a new shiney phone with better features

  46. Manuel Barkhau says:

    Voice of the narrator is insufferable. TIL the epidemic is called "vocal fry".

  47. NPC#reset/ input// err says:


  48. Away says:

    yeah this video is misleading at best and slanderous at worst. Most large companies are already recycling responsibly and a ton of money is spent to make sure stuff like this doesnt happen. Maybe 20 years ago, at the dawn of EWR this was more accurate.

  49. Kb123 B123 says:

    Surprised the stuff makes it to Asia. I figured they just dumped in in the Mariana Trench… seriously though, we should start using less plastic, and make provisions to recycle plastic here at home. That would ensure we know what’s happening, and would save the fuel cost of transporting junk across the ocean.

  50. H says:

    Jim Puckett and everyone working at BAN are what real heroes look like. We need many, many more people like them in the world.

  51. Faran Khan says:

    Explained on Netflix has an amazing documentary on recycling..

  52. Souvik 007 says:

    This thing proved that US is selfish and never care people from developing nation that's why they send toxic/dangerous wastes to those nation. Recently, Sri Lanka caught a ship coming from Canada sending wastes to Asian poor countries. After getting caught, Canada Government not returning their wastes… WTF!!. they are under developed people from so called Developed nation! A bunch of Selfish.

  53. VVG 916 says:

    Narrators voiceover is so damn cringe, its ok dude, you dont have a deep bass manly @$$ voice, dont pretend and dont develop a frog in throat either, life doesnt give everything-be happy with yourself :/ :/

  54. C0r34n says:

    So you guys r just taking people’s jobs away in a poverty ridden country?

  55. Kiril Nikolov says:

    Per my knowledge GPS is sending the location only one way – to the device. It's not receiving information from the device. For example if you have a cell phone – the phone will determine its GPS coordinates but it will need Internet connection in order to send them to someone (or server etc).

    How do those devices transmit the GPS location back to the system?

    My apologies if this question was already answered!

    Thank you!

  56. Andrius Jurevičius says:

    Give me all those printers!

  57. thywhipboy says:

    Why do you speak bad of undeveloped countries like they don’t have a brain?

  58. Cypher791 says:

    I put my old laptops in the general waste after I beat a lamb to death with it ☝️🙂

  59. Liam Crosby says:

    Recycles what they can and ships it to others who ship it to south east Asia 🤒

  60. Subscribifi says:

    0:17 all the time iPhone 6 here

  61. KOTYAR0 says:

    People dont even bother to carry multi-use foldable bag with them, – to replace those 2-3 kilograms of disposable bags each of us throws away every year.
    There's nothing we can freaking do.

  62. mw3051 says:

    so does verge have any legit "news" ? they are pure yellow journalism. they go for the shock value without regard for truth.

  63. Roberto Mezquia Jr says:

    8.5m – 2.5m = 5.5m😕

  64. nusiel says:

    I recycle it via best buy:(

  65. TheCookingNerd says:

    Theirs robots that give you money for your phone…NEVER USE THAT!

  66. Xp3r says:

    Make sure the power supplies don't come into contact with the sides of the cases

  67. Panda Cuzz says:

    WOW yall think them companies out there are bad?? Inmate in prison working at UNICOR get pay 25cents an hours, think they Give a shit about Dell,HP montior,PC Printer,i nk and other things go in witch box?

  68. Sachs Husam says:

    What? Free Trade? That's why WTO is fail. Trump's administration better solve this problem rather than Hong Kong protesters.

  69. June Newton says:

    😎…why do They keep forcing Upgrades on people, if They know there is recycling issue…same bs with plastic….😎…maybe nasa can take it to space with Them…😂…😎..just kidding, of course!🙏💪

  70. Godshole says:

    Profit before people, but change is a'commin. Locally to me in Scotland there is a Social Enterprise company that takes in all sorts of e-waste. They focus on computers and phones and refurbish and sell what they can in their shop. I am typing on a laptop from there which I am super happy with and has reduced my power bill from the tower I used to run. Ok, it's not much, but it is something. I have Dell screens from there too, all brilliant and cheep cheep. Being part of the EU there are stricter laws about E-waste and they have to comply with it all. Locally people are becoming more aware of these issues and taking it to heart. The social enterprise also gives employment and training to people who are struggling with confidence or mental health problems and other disabilities. And it is self funding. I think it is brilliant, and similar in some ways to the outfit at the end of this film. My local outfit is called ReBoot. Great people too 🙂

  71. John Macaulay says:

    Verge 'science'

  72. Z Green says:

    How can I make "only $6 million" doing this the right way? I'm ready to start

  73. triyanto prabowo says:

    people should pay for e-waste to be recycled

  74. Johnny Daniel says:

    Who gives a shit as long as it is out of our country.why do u care where it wnd up .get it out of our country.dont care about people not here in the USA or canada.u people who care but it in your backyard

  75. krzeszewski says:

    the voice of the reporter sound like a girl from NJ. so american…

  76. AliveC4T says:

    Mercury in LCD monitor? What year do you still live in?… Production of monitors with fluorescent lamps containing mercury was stopped 10 years ago. Today they make only less than 1% of recycled electronics and this number is constantly lowering.

  77. the Greatjon says:

    All about 💰💰💰💰💰

  78. Trojan D says:

    That cpu build took up alot of space. That's why they were able to make a video.

  79. Shunya says:

    please give me some of your e-waste, i will desolder some good amount of electronics

  80. rick love says:

    this is sad to see

  81. EaqIe says:

    I see no problem.
    They'll recycle it in the developing countries. Give those people a chance for making money too.
    If we recycle it here it'll done by people too but without making a profit.

  82. Aaron Martinez says:

    I don’t understand why the metals aren’t extracted and reused for example that entire computer casing or perhaps chemical reactions to extract precious metals

  83. John R says:

    end every sentence with awful vocal fry

  84. Aezulo says:

    Flashback to the pc build

  85. ON says:

    This looks like a CBC marketplace investigation.

  86. Zubin Grant says:

    Manufacturers should be held responsible for the entire life cycle of a product & not just until they're sold.

    If they can invest in manufacturing facilities with expensive robots just to be early to market & being more efficient, they can also acknowledge end of life of their product & provide dismantling facilities where they're able to return a product to it's raw materials & reuse them.

    I guess you could say it can be a closed loop system where much like Apple you're locked in a company's ecosystem so that could be a plus for the businesses. You buy from the company, you use it, then send it back to them.

  87. that one guy c says:

    Same with eco-friendly solar panels with toxic lead and cadium

  88. montork says:

    Should be a law that the corporations that make these products should have to take them back when they are done.

  89. feelingthefunk says:

    After 2 minutes, I could no longer tolerate the host's crackling vocal fry voice.

  90. triadwarfare says:

    Some countries do benefit from EWaste as long as it's still useable. We have lots of old dell monitors being used on computer rental shops.

  91. Econymous says:

    Robot Automation will be huge with problems like this

  92. Kshitiz Gupta says:

    I think in the end math was wrong

  93. Rivaldo Riyanto says:

    It ends up on ebay… ba dum tss

  94. 0m3n says:

    I bet there are so many good parts left there

  95. Rory Jakobs says:

    Could you try speaking with less vocal fry? It sounds horrible on most mobile devices

  96. JasonSmith709 says:

    You should do a video about how 'recycled plastic' gets sent to southeast Asia and burnt as fuel.

  97. Ryan says:

    Something I never once thought about!

  98. Bracikato says:

    Can't listen this man voice. Grate video, iritating voice.

  99. fireaza says:

    I know where my electronics are going once I'm done with them: to the secondhand market! Do people seriously just throw out their electronics when they don't want them anymore? Aside from preventing e-waste, there's good money to be had from selling on your unwanted electronics!

  100. Walber Macedo says:

    9:30 8M – 2.5M = 6.5M 🤔

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