Anyone who has raised a family over the last decade or two has certainly heard of the movie “The Lion King” where most of us first heard the term “The Circle of life” unless you were into astrology or other like studies. Well the theory goes like this, We are born, we live life as best we can, we hopefully reproduce, and then we checkout for eternity or do one or more encore performances based on your religious beliefs.
When it comes to most foreign made consumer electronics and computer related hardware the circle of life begins and ends with death. Gee isn’t that a bit dramatic? Not really if you examine the entire life cycle of the electronics, batteries, and other like devices we nearly all use in every day life.
The Circle of Death begins with the outsourcing of manufacturing of nearly all electronic and electrical goods to India, China, and other developing nations where concerns for worker safety in the handling and manufacturing of toxic substances are at par with the standards we developed back in the early 20th century during the days of sweatshops and child labor except today’s goods involve some very toxic substances.
Although reputable U.S. firms compel their offshore manufacturers to follow strict safety guidelines and human rights policies there are countless stories of reckless abandonment of all concern for worker safety especially in the area of the handling and applying compounds like Lead, Mercury and a host of multi-syllable chemicals.
The main reason for deferring to developing nations for our product manufacturing needs is obviously cheap labor, the type of labor that can’t be accomplished by machine. If this labor could be done by machine or robotics we would deploy accordingly as we and the Europeans lead the world in automation technology. This means human labor must directly handle and manipulate toxins. Granted, workers often wear gloves, protective smocks, eyewear and other safety apparel in more advanced and well organized facilities but what about the countless sub-contractors that operate in garages and dwellings all over China and India? How well supervised are these unregulated satellite operations? Could this explain why so many Chinese made products reveal dangerous levels of lead and other toxins? This may explain why a company as solid and reputable as Mattel was not able to catch lead laden product before it left China. Their “official” plant would likely catch locally tainted goods but what if the plant operator jobbed out some manufacturing or just some secondary process like painting doll faces perhaps with lead laden paints?
The great circle of death concludes with the very same products reaching the end of their lives where they are safely disassembled and recycled into new and exciting products, right?
Well, no. Items like computers, monitors, televisions and the like are rounded up by reclamation centers often sponsored by waste disposal firms where they fill huge cargo shipping containers the size of a 40 foot trailer and are shipped to China. Thousands of these containers arrive annually into desolate parts of China like Guiyu where peasent families with small children manually disassemble huge mounds of our old electronic waste looking for anything that can be recovered to sell to brokers who then sell the materials to manufacturers. Imagine children often barefoot and without anything in the way of protection, literally standing and sitting on mercury, lead and Chromium soaked e-waste like crows picking over a landfill!