Most “Recycled” E-Waste Gets Dumped in African Landfills

ku-bigpicOk guys, the new iPhone is out, so as the new Samsung with a flexible display. I am sure many of you have already pre-ordered the gadgets, and have been waiting patiently for this day to arrive. But have you thought what happens to your old device?

You probably assume your e-waste recycling company will process it accordingly, and this is the last thing that crossed your mind. Truth is, most of our electronic junk gets shipped off to landfill sites in Africa, where underpaid workers burn it and risk their health every day, for as little as $4 per hour. Here is the story.

We travel to Agbogbloshie, one of the biggest illegal e-waste processing sites in Ghana, situated just outside the city of Accra. Every year, millions of tones of “recycled” electronics arrive from the developed world and are dumped to the more than 40,000 refugees and illegal migrants to be taken care of.

The process is as follows. The unwanted electronics are burnt, usually by children or young men. The toxic fumes get directly inhaled, or end up in the air, the water, or in the soil, endangering the mental and physical state of the workers, and all of this in order to extract the precious copper.

ku-xlargeIt may sound unbelievable, especially knowing that there are international agreements, that should handle and prevent such cases. But the reality is, these conventions have many holes which are carefully noted, allowing leading nations such as the U.S., UK and Japan to find their way around the regulations. What started off as an innocent thought of sending old electronics to the developing world two decades ago, so that poor nations can also have access to technology, quickly turned into a horrifying story of illegal dumping.

Unfortunately, without ratification of the existing international conventions, e-waste recycling companies will continue their illegal export schemes. We, as consumers, hardly think of what happens to our old equipment, allowing such actions to quietly take place. And while the Ghanaian government does its best to introduce protective measures, there is not much that can be done regarding the living and health conditions of the residents, that continue to worsen as I write.

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Comments

  • Another part of the problem is rampant consumerism in the developed world. How many of those devices were actually past their useful lifespan? The next best thing comes out, and people gotta have it, no matter that the old thing is still just as functional as it was the day before.
    When it comes to technology, if it’s available, it’s obsolete. it makes no sense to chase the latest technology. all it does is cost more, and adds to the mounting tonnage of e-waste that our fellow citizens in Africa are ‘processing’ and killing themselves over, just for a day’s bread. :/
    “There is no such thing as a fool-proof system. Someone will make a better fool, tomorrow.”