Photos: Meet the Indian Workers Who Take Apart Your Toxic Electronics

Dec 26, 2013 at 12:33 PM ET

For years, more than 100,000 people in Delhi have toiled in the city’s electronic scrapyards. Tons of printers, computers and other castaway electronics arrive here every day from all over the world. The workers take them apart and salvage the parts for reuse. The work is illegal. It’s also dangerous, as the components can be toxic.

Recently, however, the government has cracked down on these illegal factories. Delhi officials are licensing electronic waste sites that legitimately dispose of this toxic trash. The workers who have long taken the refuse apart by hand say the new system is working, but that also means their jobs are being taken away.

I photographed some of them at one of the city’s illegal e-waste sites, before they chased me away.

These boys—ages 12, 16 and 18—make a couple of dollars a day for stripping about 1,000 components each.

As this 12-year-old boy hammers a drive, tiny screws and shards of copper fly in every direction. “These will be made into kitchen utensils,” he says.

Delhi’s e-waste scrap yards are some of the largest in Asia.

Each component is stripped by hand and put into specific piles for reuse.

Every year, Delhi recycles roughly 30,000 tons of electronic rubbish.

Piles of parts ready to be disassembled.

In recent years, Delhi officials have tried to shut down factories like this one.

But workers are concerned because it has hurt their wallets. They’re doing the best they can to get by.