Tens of millions of tons of toxic, trashed electronics from America and Europe are quietly, illegally dumped in Africa every year
If Americans and Europeans had to store their own electronic garbage, they might not consume it so quickly. They might get their dishwashers, dryers and washing machines repaired instead of tossing them out for the latest model. They might make due with their iphones and laptops until they were truly unusable before upgrading.
But, as privileged first-worlders, we don’t have to deal with our own garbage, we just ship it to Africa and let “them” sort it out.
In Agbobloshie, aka ToxiCity, in Ghana, young boys scale mountains of our obsolete electronics, looking for copper and aluminum. They burn away the plastic and other materials surrounding these scrap metals and sell them for a few pennies.
As they tear apart the electronics, they expose themselves to lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants, and burning them creates toxic, carcinogenic air pollution:
“Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly,” reports The Guardian. “But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.”
“Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s.”
“They admit it is horrendous work but these young and poor boys are driven by need, unmindful of the hazardous effect on their health,” writes Stephen Atta Owusu for All Africa.
While Ghana is the latest African country to be swamped in “white man’s garbage” it is not the first, Owusu says:
“Not many years ago, ten 40-footer containers were offloaded from a ship which docked at Tema Harbour. For two months nobody had claimed the containers. The name and address of the supposed owner were incorrect.”
The custom officers became suspicious and decided to open the containers. They discovered to their utmost surprise and bewilderment that the ten containers were loaded with very dangerous toxic waste. Similar situations have occurred in other countries including Ivory Coast, Togo and Nigeria. It is believed that certain rich African businessmen are involved. They are paid huge sums of money by Western countries to dump high-tech toxic waste in Africa.”
Billions of tons our old computers, TVs and refrigerators have been dumped in Africa, with 41 million tons of e-waste discarded globally in 2014 alone, according to the United Nations University.
Only six million of those tons were recycled. Nearly 12 million tons came from Europe (primarily the UK and Germany) that year, and a presumably much larger amount came from the United States.
As far back in 2007 the United Nations initiated a program called named “Solving the Problem of E-waste,” acknowledging the problem would only get bigger as the global population continues to grow.
In the meantime, Owusu calls on African leaders to put “extreme and uncompromising pressure on the giant electronic companies to phase out toxic chemicals and introduce global recycling schemes.”