Photo via Commodore Gandalf Cunningham via Flickr CC
We talk a lot about how reusing items is usually greener than recycling, and the more an item can be reused, the better. That is definitely the case for electronics, since throwing them out or even trying to recycle them leads to environmental harm. Turns out, one nation just might be a leader for this green practice. Electronics shipped off to developing nations for "recycling" are often still perfectly good and usable.
According to a study called "Product or Waste? Importation and End-of-Life Processing of Computers in Peru," and reported at Greener Computing, found that found suggests that in Peru, imported electronics don't go straight to e-waste dumps but rather 85% of discarded computers sent to the country are reused instead of recycled.
While many countries don't practice this kind of sorting and reuse, it is a practice that could certainly help mitigate the impacts of e-waste in developing nations - alongside, of course, far better reuse, repair, and recycling practices in the developed nations where the e-waste shipments originate.
The article from Environmental Science and Technology states:
The United States is the primary source of used PCs imported to Peru. Analysis of shipment value (as measured by trade statistics) shows that 87−88% of imported used computers had a price higher than the ideal recycle value of constituent materials. The official trade in end-of-life computers is thus driven by reuse as opposed to recycling.
This starkly underscores both the wastefulness of the US when it comes to electronics, and the great benefits of reusing products instead of recycling them. If other areas where electronics are recycled in toxic ways are helped to create a system for tracking incoming electronics as Peru has developed, perhaps we would see a drastic reduction in e-waste and pollution associated with unregulated e-waste processing.