America’s digital dumping ground

It was once known as the world’s largest dumpsite for electronic waste, its streets littered with piles of cracked screens and broken motherboards. But then the town of Guiyu did the miraculous: It cleaned itself up, seemingly overnight.

But the rapid turnaround struck some environmentalists as fishy. For decades, Guiyu’s illegal recycling industry had drawn electronics from around the world to its small corner of southeast China. Smugglers used to import old computers, TVs and printers from abroad, handing them off to migrant workers who would break the electronics apart by hand — unwittingly exposing themselves to poisonous chemicals in the process.

For those at the top, the business was lucrative — so where did all the smuggling go once Guiyu’s officials decided to crack down? The radio show Reveal partnered with the Global Reporting Centre to follow the trail of smuggled electronics and find out how Guiyu is recovering from decades of electronic pollution.

This story is available both in audio and in print.

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