I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…
Toxic Town – Green Gone Wrong
My five-year-old Nokia is already an archaic laughing stock amongst my colleagues and in a few years, it’ll no doubt become a prehistoric curiosity. Friends of the Earth revealed that young Hong Kongers change their phone every 600 days, with 65% admitting they upgraded annually. The reasons include rapid technology change, low initial cost, planned manufacturer obsolescence and good old peer pressure. However, my self-righteous custom of differentiating between what I ‘want’ and what I ‘need’ (a trait my friends often mistake for ‘being tight’) means that I’ll probably only replace mine when it packs in beyond repair. And being a well-meaning tree-hugger of sorts, I’ll probably try and get it recycled.
The culture of disposable gadgetry extends to Japan, the US and EU, where e-waste recycling is built into law. Private companies fill containers with, often toxic, old electronics which are then shipped thousands of miles to Hong Kong where legal loopholes mean they are sent onto the infamous Guangdong town of Guiyu, just over the border. Precious metals and other valuable elements are then retrieved from the products, whilst mercury, lead and other harmful substances are also processed, often by children and without protection.
Using primitive methods (often burning) to separate poisonous components, 100,000 peasant migrant workers now have undrinkable water. Meanwhile, 80% of Guiyu’s children have dangerous levels of lead in their blood as their parents work for up to 16 hours to earn just HK$11 a day.
Amidst all the patriotic merriment over China in recent years, Guiyu has become a Chinese Bhopal – only people are dying more slowly, hence it receives less media coverage. This is no call to stop recycling but manufacturers ought to implement their own ‘takeback’ policies, HK should enforce its own laws and we ourselves must declare our own ‘War on Want’. See tinyurl.com/ewastehk for more details.