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South Korea Attempting to Reuse More E-Waste

South Korea is dealing with increasing amounts of waste from electronic devices. These useless or unwanted parts are often called “e-waste.”

Tons of old computers, telephones and other devices are often taken to landfills and buried under the ground. The old products may leak toxic or poisonous chemicals.

Now, some local governments in South Korea are launching special e-waste recycling programs. The city of Seoul throws out about 10 tons of e-waste each year. About 20 percent of that goes to the Seoul Resource Center, also known as the SR Center. There, electronic devices are taken apart so that valuable metals like gold or copper can be extracted and reused. South Korean officials say metal extraction is a $3.8 billion-dollar industry.

Ji Un-geun is the chief executive officer of the SR Center. He says reusing electronic parts is not only about earning profits. He says the goal is to protect the environment.

He says, “Our planet has a limited amount of natural resources. Our company contributes to a sustainable society, by conserving these materials.”

Ji Un-Geun says about 90 percent of what is brought to the center will be used on other products.

The increase of e-waste is not only a concern in South Korea. The United Nations says millions of tons of e-waste end up in developing countries. Toxic materials like lead and mercury can create a severe health risk to the local population.

The Seoul city government partnered with the SR Center to collect e-waste in 2009.

Lee Tae-hong lives in the South Korean capital. He says recycling is also about protecting personal information from attack.

He says, “If devices like phones are not recycled, then they could illegally end up in other countries like China or in Southeast Asia, and personal data could be stolen.”

But some environmental groups say not enough is being done to limit the amount of electronics sent to landfills. South Koreans keep buying more and more electronic gadgets. Some experts estimate that only 21 percent of the country’s total e-waste gets properly recycled.

Lee Joo-hong is with the Green Consumers Network. He says the average South Korean buys a new mobile phone every 18 months. He says companies offer special deals to buy new products.

He says, “People change their phones so quickly partially because companies offer big subsidies to buy new products. And Korean consumers do not want to feel left out by not having the latest model.”

Ji Un-geun agrees with Lee Joo-hong. He says that consumer behavior is a big reason why old phones continue to appear at the recycling center. But he says he is doing his part to reduce that.

He says, “I have had this same phone for 10 years. It is what I can do to help conserve our natural resources”

He says that more South Korean cities need to start their own recycling programs to keep up with the increasing amount of e-waste.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

*This report was based on a story from reporter Jason Strother in South Korea. Jonathan Evans wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in this Story

extract – v. to remove something by pulling it out or cutting it out

gadgets – n. small, useful devices

subsidies n. money that is paid usually by a government to keep the price of a product or service low or to help a business or organization to continue to function

toxic adj. containing poisonous substances

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