Dell plans Indian e-waste plant to tackle tech dumping

Dell is setting up a pilot recycling plant in India in an attempt to tackle the problems caused by dumped technology in developing countries.

The company says technology waste will always make its way to developing countries because valuable materials such as copper are contained in old PCs, despite government efforts to legislate against it.

Toxic substances such as PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) cause big environmental and health problems for the people who remove valuable materials by burning parts of computers.
Dell said providing ways to extract these materials safely is a better answer than trying to stop people extracting them at all.
Mark Newton, Dell’s lead environmental strategist, said, ” Regulation is not going to solve the problem. Legislation is not going to be imposed in informal emerging economies. The economics is just too strong. There is an intrinsic value in the materials in electronic waste, and we need to work with that.”

Recycling is a big business in developing countries – while western economies recycle just 10% of their e-waste, developing countries generally recycle 98%.

“People who burn technology waste in the streets do not want to be doing it, but it is the only way they can make a living,” Newton said. The answer, he said, is to provide an economic incentive to recycle the waste safely. If recyclers use methods that will safely extract more valuable materials per tonne of waste than workers would by burning it on the street, they would be able to pay people to bring technology waste to its plant, giving them a better method of earning money.

The pilot plan is currently only at the “conceptual stage”, but more activity and information can be expected in 2010. Other technology companies in the mobile market are planning similar pilots.

Most charities and recycling experts lay the blame – and the responsibility – for the global e-waste problem at the doors of big profitable IT companies such as Dell. Newton agreed that the responsibility for end-of-life technology lies with the technology producer, and added it may be easier to get IT companies to invest in recycling plants than some might predict.

“Investment would not be purely altruistic. It is a way to manage costs, and is much cheaper to the IT industry than to have to pull this equipment out before it even enters these countries.” And many emerging economies don’t even have basic waste management plants – if IT companies wait around until these start being built, the level of investment expected of them will be much higher than if they invest now in technology waste plants.

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