The Enemy Within

A pair of reports remind us of the hellacious situation unfolding in China, where so-called recyclers of electronics waste melt down circuit boards in their homes, poisoning themselves and the local environment in exchange for a $100 or so a month.

The source of all the tossed PCs, toys and cellphones? All too often, Western nations, for which it is far cheaper to export the e-waste than to recycle it themselves.

“The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world in which it is not illegal to export hazardous waste to less developed countries,” Salon reports. Not only, it seems is China the World’s Workshop, it’s also the World’s Wasteshop.

But as the reports, one earlier this month in Salon, the other just yesterday from the Associated Press, couldn’t possibly be expected to point out, the returning of electronics waste to China also feeds the beast of counterfeit parts that is truly cannibalizing our own attempts to provide reliable, quality products to customers.

As satirist Walt Kelly wrote four decades ago, We have met the enemy, and they are us.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

3 thoughts on “The Enemy Within

  1. Right on target Mike. Still, there is hope. I am hearing from family to not get anything for my grandkids that is made in China this year. Perhaps quality and safety really do have admitted value.

  2. re: The Enemy Within

    If US Consumers didn’t care when we outsourced our electronic manufacturing livelihoods to Asia, can we really be surprised when they care even less that, in the process, we exported our electronics manufacturing pollution? The prevailing attitude about “foreign” industrial waste — whether it’s the disassembly of poison-laden freighter hulls in India or reckless “recycling” of electronic waste (eWaste) in China — seems to be “better over there than over here.”

    While faulting American consumers for being naive or apathetic is 1-thing, blaming the US at-large for supplying eWaste to an Asian market hungary for processing eWaste is akin to blaming Mexico for quenching America’s appetite for illegal labor: It’s not only too convenient, it’s also a very narrow view of a much larger picture.

    If we’re really going to get righteous about the consequences of unchecked foreign manufacturing let’s put all the foreign factory headliner woes under one spotlight: child labor, sweatshop conditions, environmental recklessness, worker health & safety.

    Then, fix the whole problem:

    [] Ban the importation of foreign-made Goods into the US from factories which fail to abide by the health & safety, labor and environmental requirements imposed on US companies by the Federal government.

    [] Adopt WEEE/RoHS-style Directives to restrict the flow of eWaste into the US.

    [] Enact laws banning the exportation of eWaste from the US, period.

    Look like too much? Fine, just pick which of the preceding actions you’d prefer to ignore and then ask yourself: Am I the Enemy Within?

  3. Maybe the solution would be to require by law that all electronics sold in the US be recycled within the US. It would help create jobs and ensure that the US takes some responsibility for the E-Waste it creates.

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