Toxic ‘e-waste’ dumped in poor nations, says United Nations


I implore you, go to the Internet and search for images of “e-waste China” or “e-waste Nigeria” and you will see a breathtaking display of disturbing photographs: small children around discard electronics, young boys dragging vast metallic tubes, men burning plastic computer’s components, without masks to filter particulates floating up from the burning debris emerging from the caldron, beaches littered with electronic junks and mountains as e-waste landfills. All you can see is a landscape strewn with corpses of the information age, the end of the life of machineries of a generation of electronics. The humans, animals and plants who populate and grow in these landscapes suffer the consequences of a constant flow of movement and the deposition of electronic trash on their land and in their lives.

Electronic waste is an environmental nightmare, especially in the third world, where an environmental enforcement slightly exists. Computers consist of hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and arsenic. When they are thrown away or are burnt, these toxic metals are released into the nature. Even when they are not burnt, the e- waste end up into the land, slowly contaminating the water resources and the soil or the rain is simply wash them into the ocean. Yes, the photographs are shocking, proving that in this part of the world, the electronic trash has been less of a local legislative priority. It’s not only unsafe but is an environmental catastrophe to export electronic trash to the third world for recycling.

Here, in the United States, we all have TVs, computers and cell phones and some of us who are more fortunate even have in addition laptops, iPhone’s and tablets.  It is not a surprise that the people like to replace them with the latest versions, because the newest electronic devices safe out time and make our life easier or solely because they are more attractive. Every day people throw away tons of electronic apparatus and the amount of e-waste is predicted to increase double and triple per year.

Recently New World Capital Group published the following statistic:

“The global volume of e-waste generated is expected to reach 93.5 million tons in 2016 from 41.5 million tons in 2011. The United States led e-waste dumping with 7.1 million tons in 2014“(New World Capital Group 2015)

Sadly, as per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) reports only around thirty percent of electronics are recycled. So, what happens to the rest of the electronic junk?

Thanks to the federal indulgent policy, the larger part of electronic trash in America is exported overseas.

“This has a major impact on developing countries as loopholes in the current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directives allow the export of e-waste from developed to developing countries (70% of the collected WEEE ends up in unreported and largely unknown destinations” (UNEP, 2013)

China became the “Electronic wastebasket of the world”, Ivan Watson (CNN 2013). Much of the world’s electronic trash is exported to The Republic of China for recycling where not-well equipment fabrics are bestirring to recover valuable materials from the discard electronics are creating serious health and environmental hazards.

“Informal recycling of waste electronic goods (e-waste) in developing nations is emerging as a new environmental challenge for the 21st century. Exposes by NGOs… have revealed that home-grown computer-recycling systems in China and India are wreaking environmental havoc… Volumes of waste equipment needing processing are increasing rapidly in both the industrialized and industrializing worlds. Despite significant attention from the media and enactment of some national level trade bans… the problem is apparently worsening.” (Eric Williams, Tsukuba, Japan 2005)

Many scientists from the United States and China publish reports about the various toxic elements in the air discharged from recycling electronic waste in Southern China, where companies use unsafe techniques to separate recyclable parts of the computers. “The most immediate problem is the health of the workers and the people who live in the city, but this may also be contributing to global contamination “(Bernd R.T. Simoneit) said Professor Bernd R.T. Simoneit from Oregon State University, who has participated in an environmental study along with other Chinese scientists in Shantou City located in Southern China. The researchers collected samples while the workers were removing the e-components by melting the computer boards over grills. The study found that large chemicals and heavy metals were emitted in the air through the smoke.

“Some of these chemical compounds may be carcinogens; other may be just as harmful, because they can act as ‘environmental disruptors’ and may affect body processes from reproduction to endocrine function” professor Simoneit said (Oregon State University 2010).

Sadly, for many people from the town of Guiyu is too late, as they are already contaminated from the evil of the e-waste. The original BAN film “Exporting Harm”, one of the first hard-hitting documentaries which opened people’s eyes to the true horror of the high-tech revolution showing thousands of people engaged in dangerous practices as burning computers to collect copper and gold.

The hope is that one day China will enforce stricter environmental laws and will stop importing electronic waste, but unfortunately, the e-trash can be easily delivered to other parts of the world. Let’s visit West Africa, where the e-waste is progressively throw in a country like Nigeria.

In present years Nigeria became one of the main destinations for the earth old, unused electronics. Every day chunk vendor transport large amount of age electronics. The ambition for technological advance is changing country’s landscape, transforming the once placid suburb into a chaotic bustling e-waste center, and it is not pretty. Discarded equipment, most of which had been produced to become quickly obsolete, arrives every day from the United States and Europe. Environmentalists have expressed concern about the health significance of improperly caring the hazardous materials. The open burning of metals and plastics, spare huge amount of dangerous particles into the atmosphere and people who live near burning spots are suffering from chest-related diseases.

“Computers and mobile phones can contain over one thousand different substances. The main hazardous substances that could be found in electronic products are: lead, mercury, cadmium, zinc, yttrium, chromium, beryllium, nickel, brominated flame retardants, antimony trioxide, halogenated flame retardants, tin, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates.” (Nordic Council of Ministers 2011).

These chemicals effortlessly slip away during the extermination process and distill in the water more quickly in the rainy season from March to September in this tropical climate.

“The results of the 2009 tests of soil, water, and surface runoff showed high concentration of heavy metals. Lead, in particular, was found in high concentrations, not only in the effluent nearest the dumpsites, but also in the well water of residential homes” (Popoola et al. 2011).

We are all complicit in the demise of planet’s environmental health. We are all players in the problem we have transported to China, Nigeria and other countries in Africa, Asia and South America. In our ignorance and denial of the problem, we support criminal activities that poison the air, the water and the soil of our universal neighbors, without thinking that in the age of global relatedness, those developing countries are closer to us than ever before.

In 2006, Jeffrey Weidenhamer, a chemistry professor from Ohio purchased on sale a necklace made in China for his class to evaluate. The results were distressing that the necklace consisted high volume of lead and other dangerous metals. Later the professor argued in a scholarly magazine, that the percentage and portions of these metals recommended that their source was pointed to the manufacture of electronic parts. “The U.S. right now is shipping large quantities of leaded materials to China… It’s not all that surprising things are coming full circle and now we’re getting contaminated products back” Weidenhamer said. (National Geographic Magazine 2008)

What we should do is to stop exporting e-waste to the developing countries. The air people breathe, the water people drink, the land plants grow are contaminated with a mixture of chemicals disposed in the electronic trash we shipped. We should put our efforts to convince our legislature to enact more efficient environmental laws, because even we drop off our old computers at designated boxes, this doesn’t assure that it will be safety disposed of.

I agree that, there are honest recycling companies, who process the e-waste responsibly without causing health risks to the population and, I believe that every manufactures must be legally obligated to maintain an infrastructure where can collect electronic trash and guarantee responsible recycling.

I am afraid, that in the future the archaeologists instead to dig marvelous temples or artistic statues will find mostly e-chaos, the invasion of the machines. Electronic waste is an environmental horror, but it’s also an unnecessary trash, because many old computers have components that still work in newer models and if we take advantage of that it is a win for us and the planet. Do you know that by recycling a computer you are conserving energy? I recently read that if we recycle one million computers, we will save energy equal to light used by three thousand five hundred families in the United States per one year. So, “Is there a future for e-waste recycling? Yes, and it’s worth billions.” (Kendall Morgan, 2015 winner, Elsevier). Let’s stop exporting e-trash to the developing countries and build a whole new industry, here on our land.

Reference:

  • Doyle, Alister, 2015. U.S., China to dumping of electronic waste; little recycled. Reuter. Web. 20 Apr. 2015 <http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/20/us-environment-waste-idUSKBN0NA00V20150420#TG9sroQixWCFTKUG.97>
  • United Nations Environment Programme. Global Partnership on Waste Management. Web. 2015 <http://www.unep.org/gpwm/focalareas/e-wastemanagement/tabid/56458/default.aspx>
  • Watson, Ivan. (2013). China: The electronic wastebasket of the world. CNN. Web. 30 May. 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/30/world/asia/china-electronic-waste-e-waste/>
  • Williams, Eric. 2005. International activities on E-waste and guidelines for future work. United Nations University, Tokio, Japan. National Istitute of Enviroumental Sciences: Tsukuba, Japan (2005)<http://www.academia.edu/759157/Current_Status_and_Research_on_E-Waste_Issues_In_Asia>
  • Simoneil, Bernd R.T. 2010. Scientists concerned about environmental impact of recycling of e-waste. Oregon State University. Web. 26 Aug. 2010<http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2010/aug/scientists-concerned-about-environmental-impact-recycling-e-waste>
  • Nimpuno, Nardono, Scruggs, Caroline, ChemSec, Sweden. 2011. Information on Chemicals in Electronic Products. Stanford University, United States. Nordic Council of Ministers. TemaNord 2011:524
  • Popoola, O. E., A. A. Abiodun, O. T. Oyelola, and L. N. Ofofile. 2011. Heavy Metals in Topsoil and Effluent from an Electronic Waste Dumpsite in Lagos State. Journal of Environmental Issues 1(1):57–63.
  • Carroll, Chris. High-Tech Trash: Will your discarded TV end up in a ditch in Ghana? National Geographic Magazine.  Web. Jan. 2008. <http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/01/high-tech-trash/carroll-text>
  • BAN & SVTC, 2002. The Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Exporting harm: The high-tech trashing of Asia. Seattle WA, USA <http://www.ban.org/films/ExportingHarm.html>
  • Morgan, Kendall. “A methodology to help organizations in e-waste management”, Is there a future for e-waste recycling? Yes, and it’s worth billions. Elsevier B.V. Web. August 2015. <https://www.elsevier.com/atlas/story/planet/is-there-a-future-for-e-waste-recycling-yes,-and-its-worth-billions>