I knew developing countries were, to a degree, the rubbish dumps for electronic waste (e-waste) shipped in from developed nations, but I didn’t know how bad it was. I watched this episode of Frontline World this morning that really made it hit home for me. Here’s the promo:
You can access the full 20 minute segment about Ghana here. Sorry Deafies, there are no captions (which annoys the shit out of me – c’mon PBS!), but underneath the video there is a transcript of the segment (if it’s not exact, it’s pretty close). You can also see some photos with captions here on Jane Hahn‘s site.
It’s not just Ghana either – Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, China and lots of other third-world nations are being taken advantage of. In fact, the segment discussed how the average computer-owner (and dumper) is also being taken advantage of, by companies who say they’re dumping responsibly, but who ship out unusable computers for reuse. Clearly, since they’re unusuable, they’re only going to become scrap, but labelling them ‘for reuse’ enables their export courtesy of a legal loophole.
I have a bunch of e-waste here at my place that I was looking to dispose of responsibly, but now I’m unsure how I can do that if I can’t even trust the recycling companies. Plus, I want to make sure no-one has access to my data (that image of the FBI guy smashing the hard drive with the hammer also make an impression on me). Is it really best for the environment for me to be smashing stuff up, regardless of how cathartic that may be? However, is it best for me to not smash it? Ghana is one of the world’s leading areas of cyber crime, after all – there’s has to be link between that and the dumping of e-waste, it’s too convenient a co-incidence.
The one ‘positive’ thing to come out of the whole thing isn’t even very good. I wrote a while ago about the impact of metal mining on the environment (here and here). Trawling through the e-waste for scraps of copper and other precious metals does at least eliminate the need for so much mining… but at what cost? The toxic fumes produced by the burning needed to scavenge this metal is detrimental to both the environment and the unsuspecting people who participate, not to mention every man and his dog who lives nearby.
Aside from making pretty earrings, and giving away old items on Freecycle, what can we do with this stuff? Does anyone know of a recycler who actually recycles stuff responsibly without exporting it?