Recently the concern for e-waste has hit the mainstream media. The most thorough article being in National Geographic with supporting articles in US News and World Report, Scientific American and TIME. Everyone should read the print copy of the National Geographic article (January 2008 pages 64-87)as the on-line version is an abstract and does not have the striking photos and graphs that give the problem a strong visual impact. The photo above is from this article.
These articles describe a world drowning in e-waste. Much of the e-waste goes to third world countries, where it is processed by poor families (not recycled) to reclaim the metals. The family's children are included in the work. Since the main effort is to reclaim the metals, these people are constantly exposed to toxic fumes from the reclaiming fires. Huge dumps of the post processed waste litter the land near their homes. Their animals, crops and children co-habit with this toxic mess.
When I first was involved in helping companies to go "lead-free," I too did not understand that RoHS was established firstly to make recycling safer. I now understand that every non-RoHS compliant product I consume and later dispose of potentially puts some poor person in a third world country at risk. An unsettling thought indeed. We all need to do more to assure that our e-waste is safely recycled.