OPINION: E-waste disposal overseas a nightmare

By: Ruth Escarlan

We’re at an age where newer is better – especially when it comes to technology. The want for the latest cellphone or laptop is a common desire and it doesn’t help that electronic companies take advantage of consumerism. Every year, new refrigerators, ovens, cellphones, laptops, computers and televisions come out, and disastrously, the older version of the gadget becomes an electronic waste, a device that is powered by an electric cord or battery, and ends up at a landfill… overseas.

Similar to the food we see at the grocery store, we’re very far removed from the process of how an item is produced and disposed. It’s not common knowledge where it goes and how it affects a community, a place with thousands of people, and the environment — and that needs to be changed.

Awareness of how such waste affects the environment and the lives of people is imperative since the consequences are dire enough to kill a young adult and release poisonous compounds into the air and water.   

Ghana, a country on the western side of Africa, receives an enormous amount of electronic waste from around the world, including, embarrassingly, from developed countries. Most of the e-waste is transported to Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra (the capital city of Ghana) with a population of 90,000 inhabitants. Children as young as five years old work at the toxic e-waste dumpsite for almost nothing a day.

According to an online article published by Gizmodo, the average life expectancy of a worker, who makes a maximum of $4 a day, at the dumpsite is 25 years.

As a comparison, life expectancy in Canada is 82 years (World Bank Group). That’s a little over three times more than in Agbogbloshie.   

Al Jazeera’s web documentary, E-waste Republic, stated that about 15.5 per cent of the world’s e-waste is recycled properly. In 2014, Canada produced approximately 725 kilotons of e-waste – that’s about 20 kilograms per person.

The documentary maps out how e-waste winds up at dumpsites in Agbogbloshie.

It begins with large shipment containers from countries in Europe, North America and China arriving at Ghana’s ports. Then, the electronics are separated; the ones that still function can be resold in Ghana’s shops, and the unrepairable ones go to the dumpsite at Agbogbloshie.

At Agbogbloshie, workers burn the cables to extract the copper wiring, creating toxic fumes that poison the air and soil; find scrap materials or leave an enormous amount of plastics and materials that stay at the site or drift towards a body of water.

At the burn site, toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, dioxins and many others are released into the atmosphere, water and absorbed into the soil.

The extracted materials are then shipped back to factories and refineries in developed countries which allow these countries to make a profit from the hard work of people who are already struggling to survive. 

How much more selfish can this horrible process be? Essentially cutting down the life expectancy of people and then gaining financially from their hard and deadly work.

The importance of properly disposing electronics is not only crucial to the environment and to humans, but would show that we care and are concerned about the world around us.

It’s not difficult to properly dispose electronics.

Stores such as Best Buy, Apple, Microsoft collect your old, broken or unwanted devices. Humber’s Office of Sustainability is holding their annual E-waste Collection Week, ending today, so take advantage of it to dispose your electronics that way, it won’t end up at a landfill.

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