The Electronics Junkyard Dismantlers of Guiyu
image via Ink Solutions

Guiyu was once a peaceful rice-growing village located in the eastern province of Guangdong, southern China – that is – until a surge of broken computers and laptops arrived from the Western World. Since then, Guiyu has been proclaimed the World’s electronic-waste capital.

For around $1.50 USD, around 60,000 local workers including children risk their lives and limbs to scramble for anything of value out of your old computer. 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.
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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 top the carbon inside the dust clouds.
These are mere examples of what illicit and damaging recycling activities are being executed in Guiyu. The village itself is covered in e-waste. The front and back yards of the villagers are cluttered with the remains of old computer keyboards, disk drives and plug sockets, as work is often brought back home. Without a shadow of a doubt, these activities have a tremendously damaging impact on human health, as well as the surrounding environment.
People in Guiyu cannot drink local water: it has to be trucked from a town 30 miles away in impossible circumstances. River contamination levels are extremely high, (as much as double European safety levels above the limit), yet still, locals are obliged to use the water to wash dishes and laundry. In 2001, Basel Action Network (BAN) delegates even came to Guiyu to investigate the situation and one villager told them that many locals have become weak if not sick.
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The BAN team found that much of the electronic waste came from places like L.A., as well as other American states. So if you plan a trip to Guiyu, chances are, the remains of your old computer may be scattered along the roadside or near the banks of the river.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4 

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