Guiyu Town is located within the southwest part of the coastal Shantou prefecture-level city, in eastern Guangdong province, People's Republic of China. The Lianjiang river runs through the town.
Its inconvenience in transportation makes it unknown to most Shantou locals.
Guiyu is the largest electronic waste site on earth, and was first documented fully in December 2001 by the Basel Action Network in their report and documentary film entitled ''Exporting Harm''. The health and environmental issues exposed by this report and subsequent scientific studies have greatly concerned international organisations such as the Basel Action Network and later Greenpeace and the United Nations Environment Programme and the Basel Convention.
China is believed to be the predominant recipient of the world's e-waste, with a roughly estimated one million tons of electronic waste being shipped there per year, mostly from the United States, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. It arrives via container ships through the ports of Hong Kong or Pearl River Delta ports such as Nanhai. From there it is trucked to informal e-waste processing centers. Guiyu receives more e-waste than any other area in China.
Guiyu began receiving e-waste around 1995, slowly attracting rural peasants from the countryside to work in processing it. There are an estimated 150,000 e-waste workers in Guiyu. The average worker makes just US$1.50 a day, and the average workday is sixteen hours. This $1.50 is made by recovering the valuable metals and parts that are within the discarded electronics.
A great many of the primitive recycling operations in Guiyu are toxic and dangerous to workers' health. These include operations by the many thousands of workers who cook circuit boards to remove chips and solders, burn wires and other plastics to liberate metals such as copper, use highly corrosive and dangerous acid baths along the riverbanks to extract gold from the microchips, and sweep printer toner out of cartridges. Children are exposed to the dioxin-laden ash. The soil has been saturated with lead, chromium, tin, and other heavy metals. The water is undrinkable and must be trucked in from elsewhere. Lead levels in the river sediment are double European safety levels, according to the Basel Action Network.
Piles of ash and plastic waste sit on the ground beside rice and dikes holding in the Lianjiang river.
In 2007, conditions in Guiyu have changed little despite the efforts of the central government to crack down and enforce the long-standing e-waste import ban. Visitors to the city still experience headaches and strange metallic tastes in the mouth. Recent studies have revealed some of the highest levels of dioxin ever recorded.