Guiyu, with a population of about 150,000, is located in Guang Dong Province, China and is the world capital of e-waste, much of which is repackaged and sold as new. Guiyu benefits from its location in Guang Dong province which is the heart of China’s export market to the West. Guiyu has an estimated 300 companies and 3,000 individual workshops engaged in e-waste recycling. Laborers sometimes sit on the pavement in front of the workshops and use hammers and drills to open up the electronic device. The outer metal or plastic casing is removed and then the circuit board itself is removed and cooked to melt the solder so that the chips can be removed with minimal chip damage. This cooking operation releases toxic lead, cadmium and beryllium fumes. To add to the danger, recycling is messy, so the components are washed in a river or left outside in the rain. One of the largest sources of e-waste are cellphones and smartphones. Consumers keep a cellphone an average of about two years. Americans disposed of an estimated 135 million mobile devices in 2010, including pagers and personal digital assistants.
“We do not want a $12 million missile defensive interceptor’s reliability compromised by a $2 counterfeit part.”
General Patrick O’Reilly, Director, Missile Defense Agency, November 8, 2011.
Counterfeit electronic parts in the military is a huge problem. For example, in Sept. 2010 the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) learned that mission computers for THAAD missiles contained suspect counterfeit memory devices. If the devices had failed, the THAAD missile itself would have failed.
The enclosed 100+ page report compiled by the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, in May, 2012 is the most comprehensive report to date on the problem. The overwhelming majority of the counterfeits were manufactured outside of the United States. Senator John McCain, former POW, and Senator Carl Levin testified about the problem of counterfeit parts, most of which come from China. The parts are often from what’s known as electronic waste or e-waste, refurbished parts from laptops, smartphones, and other communication devices. The parts are sold to suppliers doing business with the government through the Internet.