60 Minutes Crew Roughed Up in China While Reporting On America's E-Waste

Tonight's broadcast of the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes includes a segment with correspondent Scott Pelley about black market dismantling of highly toxic electronic waste, or "e-waste," shipped from the US. The process of reporting the story turned out to be pretty hazardous, too:

Jumped by a gang of men overseeing the e-waste operations who tried to take the CBS team's cameras, Pelley’s crew managed to escape and bring back footage of the hazardous activities. Pelley's investigation will be broadcast this Sunday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The Chinese attackers were trying to protect a lucrative business of mining the e-waste-junked computers, televisions and other old electronic products-for valuable components, including gold. "They're afraid of being found out. This is smuggling. This is illegal," says Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, a group working to stop the dumping of toxic materials in poor countries that certifies ethical e-waste recyclers in the United States. "A lot of people are turning a blind eye here. And if somebody makes enough noise, they're afraid this is all going to dry up."

E-waste workers in Guiyu, China, where Pelley's team videotaped, put up with the dangerous conditions for the $8 a day the job pays. They use caustic chemicals and burn the plastic parts to get at the valuable components, often releasing toxins that they not only inhale, but release into the air, the ground and the water. Potable water must now be trucked into Guiyu and scientists have discovered that the city has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. Pregnancies in Guiyu are six times more likely to result in miscarriages, and seven out of 10 children there have too much lead in their blood.

Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste (CBS News)


  1. How miserable must these men’s lives be if they are fighting to keep video of their garbage piles from leaking into the outside world!

    Makes Koyannasqatsi seem almost like a Disney film…

  2. These poor people. Considering this job is high pay/higher risk (death!) I’d imagine a lot of these workers took this job to help their family as opposed to some get rich quick/piss it away scenario. Who knows. Friggin’ heartbreaking.

    Still, I have to be tasteless and make a joke.

    60 MINUTES CAMERAMAN: No, wait! This isn’t e-waste! We’re filming here!! Please, put my camera down!!!

    Sorry. Okay, add the Benny Hill theme song and see if that joke is better. No? Okay, you’re right.

    I will definitely check this out and probably cry while doing so. Given China’s Communistic-capitalism, it won’t be long until we’re working closer with them. Hopefully it won’t be more scenarios like this.

  3. Often a new ink jet printer costs less than two sets of cartridges. Probably this is where all our ink jets go.

  4. That is so super lame.

    Also super lame, the commercials in this video slowed the actual footage down so much that I could barely watch it. :P

  5. The same scene is happening in Africa and everywhere else China is doing business. As it happened/is happening everywhere America or Britain did business. What did you expect?

  6. @Razzabeth – I do believe the ads are a requirement of the CBS TOS

    BTW, you can podcast every complete 60 Minutes episode on iTunes for free!

    I posted a query about computer trash and Google Earth imagery a few years ago on the Keyhole community, wondering if satellite imagery was showing actual pollution from the computer trash recycling hotbeds. (take for example: Shantou, near Guiyu)

    I see someone earlier this year made a detailed slideshow of pollution discharges captured on Google Earth:

    “Slideshow: Chinese Pollution Discharge as Shown on Google Earth”


    Spooky and eery.

  7. Greetings

    Think of it as the “WalMart Effect” the imputed full cost of the cheep imported crap from overseas. T

    They are outside our regulations and laws which is pretty cool when you need to buy something but this shows the real value of the expensive rules and laws about waste and employment and OSHA and EPA etc etc

    Welcome to life mediated by shipping container…

  8. @11: You’re using the Daily Mail as a source? Oh, come on. Never have I seen such an acidic hate-filled rag.

    There was a story here a month or two back, I think, of a Chinese circus with a lion riding a horse. All the other stories covering it said pretty much the same thing; yeah, it’s a circus, but the lion is de-fanged and de-clawed for the horse’s sake, and the pictures corroborated that. Then you see the Daily Mail version of events, and it goes over the top with sensationalist propaganda, claiming the lion is practically savaging the terrified horse with its sharp claws and fangs, every sentence filled with bile and portraying the entire nation as an evil communist regime on account of this one circus.

    The Daily Mail is just bullshit fearmongering.

  9. Great post boingboing! I felt disgusted after watching this segment tonight. I am glad this E-waste issue has been brought to the attention of the nation. The burning of computer parts not only has a negative effect on this community in China, but could easily spread to neighboring areas.

  10. You can stop this happening. Yes YOU!

    Those are your monitors in that Chinese landfill – your computers, your printers.

    You need to be ULTRA careful what happens to them when you’re finished with them. Don’t chuck them in the garbage (which may well be illegal where you live anyway) and don’t just hand them over to the first e-waste “recycler” who offers to take them off your hands. It’s been shown time & time again that many people claiming to be ethical e-waste recyclers are instead feeding the horrors taking place in the Chinese countryside.

    Instead do a bit of research. Ask your potential recycler where their e-waste goes. Ask for proof. Make yourself annoying. If they’re anything less than eager to share this information with you then walk away. Fast.

    Check out the Basel Action Network for recyclers that they’ve vetted – http://www.ban.org/

    See if there’s a Free Geek (http://freegeek.org/) near you. They do wonderful things with unwanted computer equipment – repairing, rebuilding and reusing much of the equipment whilst providing excellent education for their volunteers. And they’re very cautious about the recyclers they work with and will be happy to tell you where all the recycled equipment ends up.

  11. Yes, you old computer is there.

    Yes, the lead paint found on childrens toys made in China was made with lead recaptured from batteries and circuit boards.

    Yes, we are part of the problem.

    That place is “away”. The one you always refer to while throwing things.

  12. If this is anything like the Australian 60min (stories about miracle cures, dodgy dealing and bad neighbours) I bet the reporters somehow trespassed, edited the film to make it seem worse, harassed workers to get the reaction and/or set it up.
    But the American version could be more reputable so no offence.

  13. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff in those dumps will be from waste that we carefully sorted and left out for collection or drove to the correct recycling place. In the UK many local authorities just can’t cope with the small amount of recycling we do and ship the waste overseas. Big container ships come over bearing cheap chinese plastic stuff and they go back full of rubbish – or use the rubbish as ballast.

  14. The electronics companies have a responsibility to ensure their old products don’t end up dumped in Asia and Africa. Offering a free global recycling scheme is what the most responsible companies are doing. See how the top companies measure up on this at:


    Unfortunately e-waste is also dumped in places like Ghana:


    and Pakistan:


    Greenpeace International

  15. The problem I keep running into is that most of the ethical e-waste recyclers are limited to a few big cities.

    I’ve dealt with the frustrating and often fruitless search to find a decent place to donate e-waste.

    To make matters worse, many of the companies that recycle e-waste have websites that aren’t very helpful.

    I looked at the Basel Action Network site. http://www.ban.org/ I go there and after looking around it gives me a PDF doc (Why a PDF? Why not a page of links?) listing recyclers in different states.

    I live in Virginia, so I check out the one they suggest: http://www.redemtech.com/.

    I get to Redemtech’s site and there’s no link to anything that really helps me. Lots of wonderful stuff on their practices, but nothing that guides me to a place near where I live to leave my stuff.

    Ethical e-waste recycling seems out of reach for many of us who don’t have the good fortune to live near a select few tech-savvy big cities in California.

    There are e-waste recyclers near me, but I have no idea if they will recycle my junk responsibly or if my e-waste is on its way to some poor kid’s drinking water.

    Until someone fixes this, most of us will leave our monitors and old motherboards at a recycling event, just like the one featured on the 60 Minutes story, and try to hope we were not suckered into believing we were acting responsibly.

  16. This kind of headache is why we have so many dead or dying computers in the closets of our house… propping up desks… making little beige fortresses for my cat to play in.

    I’m still looking for a recycler near me that I can feel confident is doing the right thing with my old computer bits. Until then, we’ll just have to keep warehousing everything.

  17. What is the point of driving hybrid automobiles and using energy-efficient light bulbs if we are turning a blind eye to the problem of the ways that electronics are being disposed of abroad. I hope that the new administration views this issue as an important one in regard to new environmental policies.

  18. I work at the lowest level of the technology field and really wonder, is it even possible to be green with the stuff we work with? And yeah, anyone who thinks this problem is China/Africa specific forgets we live on a tiny planet. If you consider the deadly pollution clouds which build up in China and deposit their soot as far as the Western seaboard, there’s no escaping our poisonous junk.

  19. Step 1: Stop buying new electronics. You don’t need them and they’d become “waste” in a couple years anyway.

    Step 2: Start using other people’s couple-year-old “e-waste” instead. Cheaper, ethical, and honestly just as fun.

    Step 3: Stop throwing away electronics unless they’re broken and can’t be repaired. If you don’t want it, give or sell it to someone else who will use/fix it.

    Step 4: After completing the above steps you may now worry about how you dispose of your e-waste. Though most likely the amount will be reduced to the point that it’s a much less urgent question.

  20. Stop buying new electronics. You don’t need them and they’d become “waste” in a couple years anyway.

    How do you know what I need?

    I’m chronically starved of computing resources, and genuinely need a new powerful laptop every two years, and a new home server every three.

    The new stuff doesn’t cut the mustard, let alone the old stuff.

    Stop throwing away electronics unless they’re broken and can’t be repaired. If you don’t want it, give or sell it to someone else who will use/fix it.

    Yes! Before $300 netbooks were common, I’ve been saying this since the late-90s that the 18 years old and under demographic all need their own computers, instead of sharing a “family” computer. Having their own personal computer allows them to tinker and experiment, without fear of reprisal for breaking a shared resource.

    What is the point of driving hybrid automobiles and using energy-efficient light bulbs

    Using lead-acid batteries and mercury vapor bulbs.

    I’m still looking for a recycler near me that I can feel confident is doing the right thing with my old computer bits. Until then, we’ll just have to keep warehousing everything.

    Just like nuclear waste.

  21. Yes but it’s STILL a problem — the first step is reduce and the second is reuse and those are covered so YAY! but there is still the question of the DEAD CRT (which was the primary waste in the story)

    Can’t help but think that buying something new ought to contain an end-of-life ‘tax’ for disposal, though there is no way to prevent the company collecting the taxes from declaring bankruptcy a couple years in.

    So maybe the only thing that would do anything would be for the manufacturers to be compelled to build decent recycling facilities before they can sell the product. Anything else will be ‘gamed’

  22. Hr s hw s t. f y dn’t lk t TFB

    hp thy ll r psnd t dth ths wll sv s frm lttr n hvng t g t wr wth thm.

    Thy r nmls, lv lk nmls nd hv n cncrn fr th vl f thr pthtc lvs.

    Whn thy r ll dd nd th mtnt wrms nd brds gt dn tng. thnk rth wll kp rght n crrctng tslf lk t hs fr 4.5 blln yrs.

    Snd yr trsh t Chn- hw cn dnt.

  23. Laura Ling did an excellent report about China’s toxic e-waste for Current TV over a year ago. I look forward to comparing reporting styles between these two media programs for which I have a lot of respect.

    This issue deserves so much attention… maybe someday we can get out of this planned obsolescence cycle electronics manufacturers have trapped us in.

  24. They are animals, live like animals and have no concern for the value of their pathetic lives. … Send your trash to China

    Starting with you, Annoying Hmong Boy?

    I hope they all are poisoned to death this will save us from latter on having to go to war with them.

    Baiting the USA into a war with China is an old Neo-Con urge.

    We already have more war than we can cope with, thanks but no thanks.

  25. #11: While I think it’s healthy to remain very sceptical of anything written by the Daily Fail (there is a strong and sometimes subtle bias there), it definitely sounds like the Chinese presence in Africa is often nothing more than the next wave of exploitation.

    I was recently reading a Cape-to-Cairo travelogue, written by one of my fellow countrymen, and humorously titled “Dark Continent, My Black Arse. When the author reaches Sudan, he has the “interesting” experience of trying to check into a hotel, only to be told that it was “for Chinese people only”…

  26. they’re starting to feel the economic pinch in China. Get ready for some truly breathtaking environmental crimes as there is a mad dash to cash in and get out of China. The boat has sailed, they’re leaping for the aft-rail now.

  27. I knew when I read most of your posts on here, you all would be as self righteous and clueless
    as ever!!! Big surprise…as long as the waste leaves here most people don’t care. NIMBY FOREVER!!

    What do you think is going to happen to all this e-scrap when you recycle it or throw it away.
    No matter how they handle it mercury and lead and cadmium are still coming out of the recycling process.
    It is not illegal, while maybe not entirely ethical, to ship CRT monitors to Hong Kong. Once they are in Hong kong they are allowed to be shipped to China, that is the loop hole in the process.
    Basel network is going to save these people from being harmed but are they going to build them new houses and feed them? No they are not. Many of these people have their backs up against the wall and have no other way to make money.

  28. I am an ethical E-Waste recycler. Please contact me if you have large quantities of E-Scrap to recycle. To do it right it may cost a little sum of money but we shouldn’t care right? The problem is people would rather get rid of it for nothing then have to worry about paying to do it right. If you want to do it right? Shoot me an email and we can help you set up a program, to do it right.

  29. I read boingboing everyday, saw this article and decided to say “Hey if you are looking for someone to do this for you I do this for a living actually” That is all.

  30. And we wonder why we have lead in our toys.

    LCD displays have their own toxins so the cycle isn’t broken yet.

    Everyone needs to give Marvin Gaye’s “Ecology” a serious listen. We haven’t learned anything in the thirty-seven years since except to more cleverly fool ourselves.

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