I honestly never thought about it. You take your items to a recycling center or you put them in your recycle bin and you feel pretty good that you’re doing your small part to save the earth. You pretty much trust that whoever takes it from there is on the up and up. (OK, maybe you don’t think that, maybe I’m just the naive one). But anyway, my boss just asked me if I had seen a recent 60 Minutes report so I just viewed this story online (CLICK HERE to view it) and I was shocked by what the investigation uncovered.

The report was about how some U.S. recycling centers are illegally shipping computers overseas where they are then broken down for the precious metals inside. The result, according to the report, is widespread pollution that has ruined one town profiled in the report. For example, pregnancies here are six times more likely to end in miscarriage and drinking water has to be brought in from other locales as drinking the water could be fatal.

By the way, did you know that Americans dispose of 130,000computers each day? At one U.S. recycling center cars were lined up with drivers who were hoping to do the right thing and who were expecting their waste to be recycled responsibly. But according to the report, these computers were actually shipped to Hong Kong illegally.

And just in case you think this is an isolated incident of one American company gone bad, think again. Forty-two American companies were willing to ship computers there.
As I was watching it I myself felt only slightly bad for the worker in Hong Kong who said he is destitute and happy to have this work. But to paraphrase one American quoted in the story, shame on us for making them make that desperate choice.

It then made me think of the book I just started reading, The World is Flat. The author, Thomas Friedman, writes about the fact that much American work, such as call centers, is being sent to countries such as India due to cost savings. Here, those jobs are looked down upon, but in India the workers are proud of those positions. Maybe that isn’t the best example, but I truly hope that the worker in Hong Kong wasn’t proud of his work that pollutes and even kills those around him.

So what can be learned from all this? Research a company before you recycle your computers and other products? Maybe. But even if you researched this company you wouldn’t have found out that they were allegedly engaging in this illegal activity. (But now that you do you better be sure you don’t send your goods there.)

And if you don’t recycle at all, please do so. For more on environmental responsibility, check out the upcoming October issue of DWM magazine, which includes the winners of our First Annual Green Awards. These companies are truly making a difference-and so can you (if you’re not already).

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