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You buy a new phone or computer and you take your old one to a local recycler. It's the green thing to do, right?Well, it turns out a lot of those devices may not be getting recycled at all. The United States is the single largest producer of electronic waste, generating almost 8 million tons a year.And much of it ends up getting exported to developing countries with lax environmental and worker protections, poisoning both people and the planet.Members of the EarthFix team followed the e-waste trail all the way to Hong Kong to see what becomes of our discarded gadgets. It's not a pretty picture ...

Explainer: The World’s Fastest Growing Source Of Toxic Waste

<p>Cell phones are a major contributor of e-waste.</p>

John Rosman

Cell phones are a major contributor of e-waste.

A good way to understand e-waste is in terms of cell phones.

Every year, the world produces 1.4 billion phones. Stacked up, these new phones would higher than the International Space Station. The average American replaces their phone every two years.

Here's the thing: the old phones they replace don't disappear. In fact, they likely end up contributing to a growing threat: e-waste. That's the vast global stream of old cell phones, TVs, computers, tablets and pretty much anything else that can connect to the internet.

has been investigating the global pathway of dead electronics — some of which end up in unregulated recycling facilities, where workers and the environment are exposed to hazardous metals and chemicals.

Inside every cell phone is potential.

There's a potential profit. A cell phone circuit board has 40-800 times the gold, by weight, as gold ore. But there's also potential danger. E-waste is the fastest growing source of waste on the planet and the biggest source of toxic metals in landfills.

The U.S. is the largest producer of e-waste. In half of all U.S. states, you can just dump e-waste in a landfill. There are no federal laws to regulate what happens to it.

But it's not just an American problem. Some of it gets shipped to other countries, like China, with fewer health and safety laws. It poses a risk to the people who recycle as well as the air and water around them.

Copyright 2020 EarthFix. To see more, visit .

John Rosman