Across the globe, humans discard roughly 50 million metric tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, a year. And, as Business Insider points out, there is more gold in 1 ton of computer scrap than in many tons of gold ore, making “shady,” underground e-waste recycling practices in Southeast Asia extremely profitable.
In many illegal scrapyards in Asia, e-waste recycling involves workers “ripping out the guts of laptops and TVs and melting the gold and copper fused to circuit boards under intense heat,” Business Insider reports. This process brings life-threatening costs—lesions, brain disorders and cancer—to the people working in those scrapyards.
Furthermore, what fuels these scrapyards is e-waste from more affluent countries, like the U.S., Europe and Australia.
Business Insider has more information:
They call it "e-waste recycling." But what happens inside Asia's underground scrapyards looks more like crude alchemy.
Men and women, faces swaddled in cloth, hunch over steel furnaces. They melt down electronic guts ripped out of laptops and TVs. Under intense heat, gold and copper fused to circuit boards get soft and runny — and can be scraped into basins full of scalding, metallic sludge.
Once it cools, this sludge has value. There's actually way more gold in 1 ton of computer scrap than in many tons of gold ore. But this process brings terrible costs, namely to human bodies.