More than 50 million tons of e-waste will be generated this year.

The vast majority of it will not be recycled responsibly. Besides some Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on waste disposal, there is no federal law which bans the export of toxic electronic waste. This makes the U.S. the only developed nation that allows their nation’s e-waste to be shipped abroad.

Responsible recyclers can choose to sign up for the only U.S. program, the eStewards Certification. It sets up globally responsible standards and bans the shipping of hazardous waste to developing countries.

Millions of the devices made in China return there as electronics waste.

The scientists who we spoke to in Death by Design explain why handling e-waste responsibly is crucial for our lives and our planet.

Darrin Magee, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Hobart + William Smith Colleges:
“We have very little relationship to our garbage here. We throw it away, and my point as an environmental geographer, is to say: Where is ‘away?’ Away is here for someone.”

Kimberley Prather, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, UC San Diego:
“We think, ‘Okay, we’ll send our e-waste to China. Let them burn it. Let them have the pollution.’ But we have to remember that air pollution travels around the globe.
A metal is a metal is a metal… You can convert it from being in the soil to being in the water to being in the air but you still have a metal.”

Toxic pollution from burning e-waste in developing countries gets trapped in aerosols, microscopic particles that spread all over the world.


Scientists estimate that 20% of China’s arable land is contaminated with toxic heavy metals.


Up to 90% of global electronic waste is illegally traded or dumped each year.


30% of China’s rice is contaminated with cadmium, which is used in batteries for cellphones, cameras and computers. It can cause cancer as well as bone, liver, kidney and respiratory illnesses.


Primitive e-waste dismantling in China is creating health catastrophes. Children in recycling communities have abnormally high levels of lead and cadmium in their bodies.