Lake Baoutou: Where the World’s Tech Wastes Go

Posted on May 18 2015 - 1:59am
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    MongoliaA lake made of the world’s tech lust was discovered in a small town in Inner Mongolia. Tim Maughan discovered the toxic lake made out of dark slush and the human thirst for consumer gadgets, smartphones and green tech.

    The man-made barely-liquid lake is at the edge of Baotou, Inner Mongolia’s largest industrial city. Maughan discovered the lake mid-way his three-week-long journey up the global supply chain with his team of architects and designers.

    Baoutou may sound like a foreign territory, but the products this little city churns out runs the world. It is the world’s largest supplier of rare earth minerals. Without these, nobody would have flatscreen TVs and smart phones. Without Baoutou, there would be no wind turbines and cars.

    Baoutou Then and Now

    Many decades back, Baoutou was a quiet town with a mere population of 90,000. When mining began gaining earnest, its head count gradually increased to nearly three million. The influx of people was due to the discovery of minerals. With more minerals, there were more jobs to get done.

    The rare minerals meant more than just employment opportunities. It also meant Baoutou was halfway into a brave new world of global capitalistic ventures while still halfway stuck with the last trickles of Communism that still line its Soviet era boulevards.

    According to Maughan, Baoutou smelled of sulphur, and other than their voices, all he heard was the roar of giant pipe lines during their visit. Underneath all the horror, Baoutou still stands as a frontier town in the face of the 21st century gold rush and technological burn-out.

    An Empty and Alien Town

    Baoutou was not always a city for mining. However, with the boom of its rare minerals industry, it had to change its structure. The streets got wider, the grounds were adjusted to accommodate massive pipes, and the residents of the city had to adapt to the giant refinery complexes that littered the town.

    Maughan and his team during their trip to Baoutou found something as strange as the sight of the black slush lake. There were no people around. There was no activity and apart from their voices and movements, the plant remained silent and unmoving.

    Upon inspection and speculation, they decided it could be the local industry is artificially controlling market scarcity of rare earth minerals. These remain absurdly expensive today as the products it helps with also remain the opposite of cheap.

    The Sad Consequence of Technology

    The lake reminded Maughan of a dystopian set, fictional at best, but horrifying in size and the meaning it conveys. Apparently, the artificial lake was previously a farmland. They dammed the river in, it flooded and it now serves as Baoutou’s dumping ground for waste products.

    This is where all the waste goes. The byproducts of consumer electronics, green technologies and electric cars all settle in this hidden strip of land called Baoutou. While the West gets smugly excited about a new green tech, more dark and toxic slush is dumped in this sad black lake.

    Their team thought of an unusual plan. They plan to make a series of ceramic vessels proportioned with the amount of toxic waste a particular tech gadget produces. They want to raise awareness on the impact of consumer goods to the environment, even if it is unseen and a thousand miles away.