Eight Million Tons of Illegal E-Waste Is Smuggled Into China Each Year

Despite the health and environmental issues, a thriving black market makes China the world’s biggest e-waste importer

Photo: Bert van Dijk

China, as Quartz reports, is the world's dumping ground—it imports and processes more garbage than any other country. Some of this trash (electronic waste, in particular) is actually worth something. But extracting that worth comes with a steep environmental and health cost. As China Water Risk reports, if companies or individuals process e-waste without following strict safety regulations, they can release toxic chemicals and carcinogens, which seep into groundwater, poison wildlife and contribute to China's "cancer villages."   

The Chinese government is aware of this problem and last year decided to start reducing waste imports, Quartz writes. However, a thriving blackmarket exists for processing e-waste, about 95 percent of which is recyclable and, therefore, has profit-making potential. Earlier this week, China announced an e-waste bust of a three blackmarket groups, Xinhuanet reports. Investigations revealed that the gangs had imported around 72,000 tons of e-waste—which was hidden in around 2,800 shipping containers—from Japan, Europe and North America. 

But that's just a fraction of what's out there. The blackmarket e-waste industry is worth an estimated $3.75 billion, clocking in at just below the illegal pharma industry and just above the illegal wildlife trade on the United Nation's organized crime list. Around 8 million tons of old phones and other discarded electronics are smuggled into China each year, mostly making its way to Southern China via Vietnam or Hong Kong, Quartz says. The world has to put its trash somewhere, and China continues to be one of the cheapest places to do so.

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