Recycling Cellphones in Shenzen, China

16 Aug

Cortes, Bernice Angeline M.                                                                                      June 21, 2011

2008- 54708                                                                                                                     SocSci 198


Recycling Cellphones in Shenzen, China


The sophistication of technology changes so fast that electronic waste already becomes one of the major problems in the world. These e-waste are from households, companies and other institutions. The major items of technology present in these wastes include cellular phones, computers and television for they are the products that are usually “upgraded” in terms of their design, style, and capacity plus other more features that can be added gradually in the product. The increasing number of consumers also adds to the advent of this dilemma; just imagine how many units of products are bought and will be changed for another after sometime.


This is perhaps another issue of the developed and developing world relationship. According to the head of Basel Action Network or BAN Jim Puckett, the developed world gets the benefit of the products but after they become unusable, the environmental risks are externalized in the developing countries (Carroll, 2008). BAN is an organization concerned about hazardous waste shipments and is trying to promote and monitor electronic recycling programs.

China is one of the largest graveyards for e-wastes. This is perhaps due to the fact that it is also a manufacturing giant in the world. Given these points, the Chinese are now recycling electronic items, especially that of cellular phones. Shenzen coined the name “cellphone recycling city” due to the concentration of the activity in the area (Kousemaker, 2010).


So what motivates them to recycle? One reason must be on the attempt to reduce risks on environment and health. China had in fact signed in the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and ratified in 2002 (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol encourages countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to control climate change. By recycling, vast amounts of energy can be saved compared with extracting virgin raw materials from the environment. Moreover, it reduces the amount of waste to be burned or buried, hence pollution is minimized (Zeller Jr., 2008). In 2009, China Mobile, the world’s largest telecommunication operator, completed an important aspect of its Green Action Plan: to decrease energy consumption and greenhouse emission by waste recycling (HUAWEI). Another reason for China’s recycling acts may be inclined to its profit concerns. The country has been focusing on solutions to poverty and actually lifted 600 million people from it between 1981 and 2004 (World Bank). Making things out of scraps probably has contributed to the success of this attempt apart from the support given to the Chinese government by world organizations.


Getting more up close to the potential motivations of recycling cellular phones in China, the first reason must be wrong. There are several accounts negating such claim of concern for environment and health risk. In 2002, BAN released a documentary about the reality in this illusion of responsibility. People are doing the “recycling” process dangerously. They burned wires to collect copper and melted motherboards to remove gold. These activities expose the people to fatal chemicals such as lead and dioxin, both causing cancer (Carroll, 2008). Scientists also examined the soil where the recyclable materials are located and found the same risks. China and other countries may recycle millions of cellphones a year but sometimes the quality of doing recycling matters more over quantity (BAN). Moreover, if China indeed has concern for health and environment, it should have implemented proper ways of recycling rather than letting people—most likely poor people—to go work and to recycle materials in the way they think they know it. There must have been say, appropriate briefing or seminars to inform people the risks in doing such activity. However, the hope to find out that there are these preventive measures is still on test.

Profit can be the reason for the action because the Chinese recycle what’s hot in the market. Cellular phones are indeed one of the most consumed products around the world; China alone has 889 million users (Nokia). This is a way to trace the benefit of selling phones out of scrap that is way cheaper than selling phones from all-virgin materials. An experiment was done by Jeffrey Weidenhamer in 2006 and was alarmed by the lead content in jewelries from China. He later found out that the lead might be from the manufacture of electronic circuit boards (Carroll, 2008). The useful materials form old gadgets are therefore taken without intensive examination regarding its impacts to health (CBS News). This is a further proof then that for the sake of cheap processing and selling at a certain price, recycling is advocated.



REFERENCES:, March 5, 2011. Retrieved June 20, 2011.

Carroll, Chris. 2008. High-tech Trash. National Geographic, Vol. 213 No. 1. January., April 13, 2011.

Retrived June 20, 2011.;contentBody, retrieved June 19, 2011.,Green, retrieved June 19, 2011., retrieved June 19, 2011.

Kousemaker, David. 2010. Shenzen Phone Recycling., March 14. Retrieved June 19, 2011

Zeller, Jr, Tom. 2008. Recycling the Big Picture. National Geographic, vol. 213, no. 1. January.


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