Guiyu, China - The Largest Electronic Waste Site in the World

Electronic waste waiting to be recycled.
Electronic waste waiting to be recycled.

Where Is Guiyu?

Guiyu is one of the towns in the Chaoyang District in China. The town is located on the South China Sea coast and is known for embracing the E-waste. It is one of the largest e-waste sites in the world as of 2013. The town has a population of about 150,000 people and about 6,000 families owned businesses, many of whom dismantle electronics to extract lead, gold, and other valuable material. The community in the town relies on electronics as a source of livelihood despite the adverse effect of the electronic waste on the health and environment.

The Role Of Electronic Waste In The Economy Of Guiyu

Guiyu is one of the world’s largest E-waste sites. There are thousands of workshops in the area that dismantle and extract valuable material such as lead, copper, and gold from electronics. The industry employs thousands of people of all ages and dismantles over 1.6 million pounds of electronics such as cell phones, computers, and electronic home appliances yearly. Several countries, including the US, export their unusable electronics to the underdeveloped countries such as the areas of Guiyu since it is cheaper to ship them than to properly discard them. Guiyu relies on electronics as its economic staple despite the dangers posed to the health and environment by the electronics. On average, workers earn barely $1.50 per day with average workday of 16 hours. The amount is made by extracting the valuable metals and parts from the huge pile of the discarded electronics. Sadly, many workers are coming from situations so desperate that the little amount is enough motivation to put their lives at risk.

Impact Of The E-Waste On Health And Environment

Guiyu was first brought to the public eye in December 2001 by the Basel Action Network in a film that was titled ‘Exporting Harm.’ The documentary exposed the health and environmental issues which greatly concerned the international organizations including the UNEP and the Basel Convention. The traditional recycling methods in Guiyu are dangerous and harmful to the workers’ health with about 80% of the children population in the area suffering from lead poisoning. Miscarriages in the areas have also been reported as above average. Workers do not put on protective clothing and use their unprotected hands to rip and strip away the electronic parts. They use highly corrosive acid bath along the riverbanks to extract valuable material from the electronics and also wash out the printer toner from the cartridge in the river. The water in the area is highly polluted making it unsafe for domestic use forcing the locals to truck water from nearby towns. The nearby Lianjiang River is highly contaminated by heavy metal three times above the desired levels.

Cleanup Efforts

The Conditions of Guiyu town has slightly improved since 2007 despite the numerous efforts by the Chinese government to implement the e-waste import ban. Activist groups are increasing awareness on the dangers of e-waste and their negative impacts on the environment. The media is also using several documentaries and TV programs to create awareness about the dangers of e-waste. The Guiyu township government has banned the burning of electronics in fire as well as the practice of soaking in sulfuric acid.


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