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Guiyu – Is Their Hazardous Waste Disposal Really Improving?

March 19, 2015

e-waste near family's laundry lineThe world’s large e-waste site is a town located in a small province in China’s Southeast coast. According to , Guiyu village has more than 5,000 amateur e-waste processing workshops, where thousands of workers spend 10 hours a day dealing with hazardous waste disposal in very unsafe ways.

While recycling is important, the primitive methods of hazardous waste disposal in Guiyu have caused a serious environmental issue locally. Locals often burn plastic, copper wires, and circuit boards, which results in toxic pollution. Workers and the environment are contaminated by the toxic heavy metals found in e-waste, such as cadmium, lead, and beryllium. CNN reported  that children in Guiya have been found to have “Higher than average levels of lead in their blood,” a problem that can stunt central nervous system and brain development.

Multiple sources, including PC World, have found that Guiyu really is making some improvements. Efforts have been made to clean up the area and some of the activities considered to be the most dangerous, such as burning metals from circuit boards using acid, have been moved to an industrial park. One environmental expert, DU Huanzheng, told PC World, “Things are getting much better…although there are still problems.”

Some individuals who have lived in the area note that there have been improvements in the last few years. Previously the town was flooded with e-waste and workers were burning items and washing metals in ways that caused severe lung damage. Of course, while some things may have been improved, there’s still a huge problem in Guiyu. There’s still huge stacks and piles of e-waste, the air still smells of recycled electronics, and workers are still using unsafe methods to recycle e-waste and deal with hazardous waste disposal.

Where does all the e-waste processed in Guiyu come from? Much of that waste is coming from Western countries, such as the United States. Currently the U.S. generates more than 7.2 million metric tons of e-waste, which is the highest in the world. Unfortunately, e-waste production continues to grow within the United States, and a lot of that e-waste is leaving places like Guiya with a serious hazardous waste disposal problem.

People sifting through ewasteWhile there’s no hard data on how much of the waste in Guiyu is imported, it’s estimated that 90-95% of the e-waste comes from overseas. Since much of the e-waste in the world comes from the United States, it’s important for Americans to start taking responsibility for their e-waste. Americans needs to begin recycling their e-waste more often, and they also need to make sure that recyclers aren’t simply shipping off e-waste to places like Guiya. reports that one of the best things to do is to look for recyclers that can reuse e-waste, which reduces the problem with hazardous waste disposal. Reuse is much better for the environment, but when refurbishment isn’t an option, it’s important to work with reputable recyclers that recycle e-waste in a responsible, environmentally friendly manner.

Even though conditions in Guiyu may have improved slightly, the area still has a serious problem. To really see improvement in Guiyu, the river needs to be fixed to provide locals with clean water. Workers need the education to teach them how to safely handle hazardous waste disposal. Highly trained officials need to take charge of the sites, improve site conditions and improving the overall environment found in Guiya.

Of course, don’t forget that other countries, such as the United States, also need to make some changes to reduce the problem in Guiyu. We in America need to start reusing and recycling e-waste in a responsible manner. This cultural change can only happen through education. As more and more people become aware that they should recycle their ink cartridges, cellphones, videogames and other gadgets -rather than just throwing them away– we can lessen our participation in this vicious cycle.

As many people begin to make changes, villages like Guiyu can stop being the “electronic wastebasket of the world.”

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