The Other Planetary Environmental Racism Story and That Other Fire Story (No, Not the 5G Towers)

Op-Ed by Patricia Burke

The editor of E-scrap News, Dan Leif, offers a clarion call to the recycling industry.

In his article, “Editor’s Opinion: Industry leaders have a role to play on racial injustice.  For white decision-makers in recycling and other sectors, it’s always been easy to acknowledge racism without actively addressing issues. Now we have a chance for change” he states,

I… have the convenient option of putting discrimination against black people – both the shocking and subtle manifestations – into an ever-widening folder in a file cabinet in the back of my mind. These are important things that I know cannot simply be disregarded. But, ultimately, I have always been able to close the file cabinet door, leaving the actual reckoning for a later time.

How do operators in electronics and reuse help ensure the current momentum for justice continues far into the future? One key is to realize and activate the power we all have in our individual roles.

….There is the fact that recycling entities have a particularly close look at the realities of American life and how race plays into it all.

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In the world of electronics recovery, minority populations tend to make up much of the workforce involved in activities such as collection and dismantling that come with relatively low wages and higher health risks. Meanwhile, owners and managers tend to be white.

Additionally, in many communities, waste facilities are sited closer to the homes of minority populations than to the neighborhoods of whites. A 2016 study from University of Michigan researchers looked at over 30 years worth of data and found a troubling pattern of cities targeting minority neighborhoods when building hazardous waste operations, increasing those populations’ exposure to pollution and other concerns.


Let’s be very clear: This siting of facilities in poor neighborhoods, and lack of supervisory jobs in the recycling  industry, is a form of environmental injustice and racism.

But beyond the scope of Dan Leif’s writings about environmental racism in the recycling sector in the U.S. is a far more extensive, institutionalized, planetary network of discrimination: the exploitation of poor nations for the mining of conflict minerals, and the exportation of e-waste to black and brown countries, where is destroys the water table and the environment, and the health of the citizenry.

The mass media has been reporting that tower fires were supposedly started by opponents to 5G, who supposedly fear that the 5G radio waves transmit the coronavirus. To date, these reports are unsubstantiated by evidence that the fires were started by individuals associated with 5G opposition, yet the perception was created that the industry was victimized, and that the opposition is 5G is based on unscientific and unrealistic claims that paint an image of lowly intelligence and lack of reasoning, replete with widespread ridicule and sarcasm.

Let’s be very clear: The ridicule and marginalization of environmental and health activism regarding 5G is an institutionalized form of exploitation, environmental injustice, intellectual arrogance, and racism by a monopoly industry and the media it supports.

Alongside the unsubstantiated stories of the 5G-opposition fired fueled by Covid fear, e-waste scrap facility fires are burning.

Also reported by the E-scrap industry:

A new report notes more and more fires are breaking out in electronics collection and processing facilities around the world, and experts say damaged batteries are typically the culprit.

The Brussels-based Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE Forum) last week published an examination of fires caused by electronic devices in the end-of-life stream. The WEEE Forum represents three dozen electronics producer responsibility groups around the world.

The organization in 2019 created a survey for European companies involved in managing e-scrap and electrical appliances, asking them about their experiences with facility fires for the prior year. “Responses to the survey confirm that the number of fires in the WEEE management chain is growing,” the report stated.

Out of 109 respondents in 20 countries covering industry sectors from collection all the way through processing, 58 respondents reported having “thermal incidents” at their facilities in 2018. Those varied in scope and damage.

Additionally, 39 of the 109 respondents said they had experienced a “severe” thermal incident since 2016.

Most fires were associated with small appliances and “mixed WEEE,” which the report defined as including IT devices, small appliances, tools, toys and other devices.

Shredding and storage hot spots

Although the study found thermal events occurring at all stages of the WEEE collection and processing chain, it found the highest prevalence during the shredding stage as well as when devices are stored prior to processing.

Most incidents are fairly minor, the survey found, causing no significant damage and controlled with on-site fire extinguishing measures. The average cost of reported thermal incidents in 2018 was 190,000 euros ($214,000), which the survey noted “can represent a significant burden for an individual company.” Most of these smaller fires did not require insurance coverage, according to the report.

For the 39 companies reporting “severe” fires in recent years, the average cost of those damages was 1.3 million euros ($1.46 million). These incidents were described as “intense fires” lasting between one and six hours.

For the severe fire cases, 75% of respondents said the cause was “damaged batteries,” with other causes including undamaged batteries, batteries coming in contact with a residual object in the end-of-life stream, and other circumstances.

The WEEE Forum plans to release a follow-up report examining best practices for managing e-scrap fires.

Battery fires are a growing field of concern for e-scrap processors around the world. In the U.S., government officials and others have increased their emphasis on regulations for transporting lithium-ion batteries.”


In addition to industrial E-scrap facilities around the world, there is a massive network of unofficial e-waste disposal sties in the poorest nations.

As reported by

A 2014 report from Electronics Take Back Coalition, tells us that in 2010, the EPA reported we disposed of 142,000computers and over 416,000 mobile devices in the US every day. That was nearly 8 years ago when Smart Phones were relatively new. Now, with 5g, industry is moving rapidly to try to get every “thing” possible connected and online.

What are we thinking when we carelessly add millions of new small cell antennas and about 50 billion IoT things to our e-waste stream? With the IoT, household items such as washing machines, mattresses, tea kettles, plant-waterers etc.are all joining the ranks of e-waste. And the demise of each IoT “thing” will be hastened yet further by cyber vulnerabilities not able to be patched, planned obsolescence, and/or the pursuit of newer, sleeker gadgets and “things” with ever more features. How toxic is the mining and manufacturing of all these “things” and devices? How will these products be discarded? Will recycling be enough? And will our earth be able to absorb and “digest” this amount of waste?

Currently, a portion of our e-waste is sent to poorer countries where it’s dismantled by impoverished workers and children using very primitive tools. Toxins leach into the environment harming workers, ground, water, and air.

An article by Austin Lumbard, US obsession with electronics has huge human price touches on a number of the social and environmental justice issues of our discarded devices.


Let’s Be Very Clear, Advocates of The New 5G Telecommunications Network of Cell Sites, Antennas, Devices, Server Farms, and Increased Energy Consumption Have Done Little to Nothing to Address Planetary Environmental Justice, Racism, and Human Rights Issues, Including ADA Accommodation for Health Vulnerable Individuals

Let’s Be Very Clear, Humanity’s Unquestioned Attitude of Entitlement And Manifest Destiny Towards Both Earth and Space By Wireless and Satellite Proponents is a Planetary, Environmental Justice, Racist, Exploitative, Human Rights and Ecological Emergency

Every new battery in every new 5G-capable device represents blood, sweat, and most importantly, tears.

To avoid being tracked at protests, experts recommend that you leave your cellphone at home.

To avoid participating in the next generation of planetary and human rights decimation, it is time to rethink the entire cultivated attitude of entitlement, and manufactured demand for the surveillance grid’s faster, always-on, access everywhere, wireless-all-the-time scenario exploding at our fingertips.

5G is not about equality, or the digital divide, or rural access, or internet freedom.

This has always been, and always will be, exploitation, entitlement, and racism.  Until enough of us decide – that it can’t and won’t persist.

Patricia Burke works with activists across the country and internationally calling for new biologically-based microwave radio frequency exposure limits. .

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