We’re all Connected to Guiyu

Who doesn’t have a mobile phone? Who knows much about how they are made and where they end up?

The life-cycle of a mobile phone begins in Africa, where child labour, slavery, rape and violence are seen as workforce management strategies in producing the minerals needed for mobile phone production.

Workings mining for coltan, a mineral needed in mobile phone production, in the Congo. Photo credit http://www.takepart.com/feature/2015/09/04/conflict-free-minerals?cmpid=tpdaily-eml-2015-09-04

Conflict-free minerals advises companies on how to produce minerals in conflict-free ways.

It’s not only the mining of mobile phones that is dangerous, but in their production. Toxic chemicals from lead, bromine, cadmium, chlorine, and mercury are released in the production of cell phones. Want to find out which phone is the least poisonous? You can find out here.

The life-cycle of a mobile phone is explained in this EPA graphic. (click on the link if you are a visual learner)

When you decide you really need the latest iphone, samsung galaxy tab, or other android devices, do you know where you old one goes to?

That’s where we all get connected to Guiyu.

Guiyu is a small town in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where villagers livelihood is in recycling electronic waste. Hazardously.

Hazardous ‘e-waste” in China. Photo credit: Sydney Morning Herald http://www.smh.com.au/environment/toxic-australian-ewaste-dumped-on-china-20090521-bh6f.html

Time magazine has a photographic collage of Guiyu, check it out here.

One of the photos from Time Magazines photographic collage of e-waste in Guiyu. http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1870162_1822148,00.html


There are global restrictions and legislation around e-waste. Trouble is, no-one much pays them any attention, and a lot of e-waste is exported – to Guiyu – illegally. The Sydney Morning Herald found e-waste from Australia was being exported illegally to China some years back.

CNN did a reportage, interviewing villagers from the e-waste capital. Ma Tianye, from Greenpeace’s Beijing office, was quoted as suggesting up to 70% of the world’s e-waste is illegal.

In Guiyu, poverty stricken villages throw hydrochoric acid on waste electronics to recover elements such as copper and steel, which are then sold for recycling.  Needless to say, this produces toxic pollution in the airs and rivers – visitors, according to CNN, experience a burning sensation in the eyes and nostrils.

Child plays in Guiyu e-waste. Photo credit: http://yeinjee.com/guiyu-electronic-waste-town-china

Some villagers say they cannot wash their clothes in the water, as the water turns all fabric yellow. They can’t eat the rice they produce, due to high levels of cadmine, yet the rice gets exported ( probably domestically) and relabelled. Who would buy rice labelled “from Guiyu”? Other villagers say that whilst the work is hazardous, its better than leaving for one of China’s big cities to work as a labourer and have to leave children behind.

National and central governments have attempted to regulate the e-waste energy, making, perhaps, the severity of pollution diminish. Slightly. End result is the e-waste industry is still terribly toxic, under-regulated, and causes severe health problems to those involved.

Next time you think you really need the latest iphone or android phone, remember the people of the Congo and Guiyu – and consider if you really do need the latest gadget.




Sources for this article are all linked in the clickable areas.

Best sources to check it our are Time Magazine’s photo collage @


and CNN’s reportage here http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/30/world/asia/china-electronic-waste-e-waste/index.html

Featured image is from Lindsay Dahl’s blog @  http://www.lindsaydahl.com/lifecycle-of-mobile-phones/