Archive for October, 2008

Labor and the Megalopolis

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags on October 7, 2008 by tzaniello



2008, 20 mins., USA

Director: Michael Zhao

Agit-Prop Documentary

Available at


            As one of the only industrialized countries in the world that has not ratified the Basel Convention on shipping hazardous waste to the Third World, the United States now exports 50 million computers, TVs, and cell phones to the Chinese “e-waste epicenter,” Guiyu, a leading importer of one million tons of e-waste a year.  It has surpassed its former rival, Taiwan, that is still attempting to treat its pollution years after the industry that once employed 60, 000 people was stopped by environmental regulations. At one point filmmaker Zhao pans the banks of the infamous Ernjen River in Taiwan, whose banks are still lined with discarded circuit boards.

             Guiyu in Guangdong Province, like most of China, has lax pollution controls. In  their haste to extract gold from the circuit boards and sell to sell other recycled components, local entrepreneurs employ thousands of workers who routinely absorb mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants as they dismantle and burn the discarded electronic devices. This e-waste has conveniently filled up the shipping containers that had disgorged their millions of tons of imported Chinese retail goods in the USA.

              Zhao points out that Guiyu had been a “trash town for decades,” but the air is now choked with “burned plastics and baked circuitry,” as the residents pursue what only could be called a cottage industry of e-waste, with homes filled with electronic components. Zhao himself could sometimes spend only a couple of minutes at the workers’ side, so irritating were the fumes; the workers themselves got used to ten to twelve hours of day.


YouTube: (excerpt)


Other: “E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor,” an interview with Zhao:





Leonard, Andrew.

The Circuit Board Bakers of Guiyu., 7 Nov. 2007 ( Reviewer argues that “a lifetime of blog posts decrying the environmental toll of high-tech industrial production does not begin to approach the impact” of the film: “The images are extraordinary and unforgettable.”