Do you ever get a sinking feeling in your stomach when you throw away some ancient piece of electronic equipment that has long outlived its usefulness? "Where is this going to end up?", you might ask yourself, and "What will happen to all the chemicals inside of it?" Or perhaps you're like me and have an entire drawer full of old mobile phones, lithium batteries, obsolete graphics cards and other stuff that you don't know what to do with.
There are collectors roaming around Kunming who will accept some types of old electronics — and maybe even pay a bit of cash for them. But I personally have serious reservations about giving e-waste to these collectors because it's very hard to know what is going to happen to the waste or to have any guarantee that leftover dangerous chemicals will not just be chucked into the trash after the most valuable substances have been stripped out of it.
According to Greenpeace, mobile phones and other electronics commonly contain "Heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, as well as hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used." Some of these substances bio-accumulate in the tissues of humans and other animals, building up over time and not flushing easily from our systems.
For several years I have been looking into whether officially-sanctioned e-waste recycling centers exist anywhere in Kunming, and each time I have come up with nothing. If I am wrong and there are places here in town that can properly dispose of this junk, please feel free to contact me.
Finally, I started to cast the net further afield. Shipping is not terribly expensive in China, so I figured maybe I could send my drawer of e-waste to another city for proper disposal. I eventually found a company called Banana Peel. It is an electronic waste startup that comes to people's home in select Chinese cities and carts away their old electronics. In exchange, they offer credits that can be used to buy things in their marketplace. They state that the electronics thus acquired will be properly disposed of in a fully licensed Beijing facility.
Many certificates, including a ISO 14000 registrations and an electronic waste recycling certificate from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, are on display on their website. It seems this was the best to be done in China in terms of properly recycling these items. Unfortunately, they do not offer a pickup service in Kunming. So I contacted their helpline and after explaining my situation to them, they provided me with a shipping address in Beijing where I could send my items to be recycled.
I have already successfully sent a test batch of my personal items to them. Now I would like to open this channel up to the Kunming community. As of today, we've placed a cardboard box at Salvador's Coffee House where people can deposit select old electronics to be recycled. My company, Dali Bar, will donate the costs of shipping to Beijing.
For now, we're going to keep things simple. Only smaller items will be accepted — no televisions or full tower computers yet. In the future we can consider helping to facilitate the recycling of larger items and maybe add more drop off locations. I'm looking forward to seeing your old crap soon!
The following items are currently being accepted for recycling:
• Lithium batteries
• Mobile phones
• Tablet computers
• Laptop Computers
• Computer boards/cards (graphics cards, CPUs, motherboards, etc.)
• Disk drives
• Small-sized peripherals (mouse, headphones, webcams)
• Routers and modems
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