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Xinhua Insight: Small gadgets cause recycling headache for China

English.news.cn   2014-03-19 16:00:35

JINAN, March 19 (Xinhua) -- Li Huizi, a hardcore gadget lover, has tried to restrain her desire for the latest cell phone after finding a mountain of old models forgotten in a corner of her home.

The 28-year-old resident of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, boasts an impressive collection of unused gadgets, including cell phones, tablet computers, digital cameras, memory sticks, MP3 and MP4 players, as well as their chargers and batteries.

"I didn't want to sell them too cheaply to peddlers who collect the waste, but they were not presentable gifts either. So I just ignored them," said Li, who works for a large state-owned company.

Li represents China's increasingly affluent middle-class consumers, who are keen to upgrade their electronics but lack knowledge of how to properly handle old products that contain potentially dangerous metals.

The end-of-life goods often escape safe handling as their owners let them collect dust at home, sell them to unlicensed collectors or simply discard inexpensive accessories such as batteries.

Recycling and disposal of small electronic goods have become a growing malady for the world's second-largest economy. Experts and business owners say the problem is in part due to the absence of government support, though subsidy programs are in place for the recycling of bigger electronic items, such as TVs and refrigerators.

HAZARDS & VALUE

Earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang "declared war" on the pollution of water, soil and air in his first government work report at the annual session of the National People's Congress.

While the public applauded the leader's gesture, many have no idea that their cool gadgets can also be polluters.

Lithium batteries for cell phones, laptops and other electronic goods contain heavy metals like cobalt, nickel and copper, which can have negative environmental and health impacts if the e-trash is dumped carelessly, said Xu Chongqing, a researcher with the Energy Institute of the Shandong Academy of Sciences.

The heavy metals, which do not break down over time, can contaminate underground water, Xu said, adding that the substances, when accumulated in the human body, may trigger blood diseases and renal failure.

Although there are no precise data on how many small electronic goods reach the end of their lives every year in China, a 2013 report issued by the Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative, a partnership of UN organizations, industry, governments, non-government and science organizations, showed that China put the highest volume of electrical and electronic equipment on the market in 2012 with 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. at 10 million tons.

According to the report, the U.S. generated the largest total volume of e-waste per year at 9.4 million tons in 2012, while China generated the second-highest amount of 7.3 million tons.

However, end-of-life gadgets can be valuable if recycled and technologies are mature, according to Xu.

"For example, the content of cobalt in the battery is 15 percent, far higher than the 3.7 percent in the ore," he said.

In addition, precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium and tin can be extracted from the circuit boards of cell phones.

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Editor: An
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