Friday, November 25, 2011

Electronic Waste Industry

An investigation on the industry behind electronic waste done by correspondent Peter Klein and a group of graduate journalist from the University of British Columbia took them to one of the most polluted places in  the world. Outside the cities of Ghana, by a river in an area called Agbogbloshie,  tons of electronic waste is dump each year and left there to be burn by the local people. Plastic from computers and other electronics are burn daily to extract the metals and sell it for profit, greatly polluting the environment and  presenting a health hazard for the community who lives there. But Ghana is not the only place where tons of electronic waste dumping has lead to massive pollution and health hazards. In China , the entire city of Guiyu has become home for electronic waste, and the growing middle class and their demand for high technology in India has also lead to the increase in electronic waste
However, there are recycling plants in Bangalore, India were recycling is done responsibly and the scraps are use to make "eco friendly" jewelry. But even with the attempts of a few alternative  recycling plants like the one in Bangalore, poverty and the lack of strict policies in many countries make it easier for the people to resource to such methods of extracting metals for profit which are harmful to their health and the environment.
However, what is more shocking than finding those large areas of electronic waste, was finding where the waste comes from and how it gets there. In the case of Ghana and China, electronic waste arrives from places like Germany, the UK and America. The import of electronic waste to Ghana has been disguised as "donations", however, only about 50% of the imported electronics can be salvage and the rest becomes waste  dump outside the cities. And in both cases, the "donations" can be problematic, either by becoming the source of pollution or the source of cyber crime. The salvage hard drives can be scanned by criminals to extract personal information (names, account numbers, pictures, etc.) which can be use in scams. In more serious cases, information rewarding U.S.'s  government documents have been found which could potentially present a danger to the country's security. In China, electronic waste is imported in containers returning to China from places like the U.S., that would other wise would have returned empty. 
When talking to dealers in the importation of electronic waste, one man reveal that even though such imports are illegal, it is cheaper for the containers to return with something and that the cost of appropriate recycling "isn't worth it". While places in Ghana, China and India are going through massive pollution because of electronic waste, we most not forget the complete effects of such pollution, its sources and the actions being taken to prevent it. Countries like the U.S. and the UK have grown "rich", but their waste has also grown, and in the case of their electronic waste, it has been imported to "poor" countries. While importing electronic waste might appear to cut cost for "rich" counties and provide some profit to "poor" countries, the true of the matter is that irresponsible recycling of electronic waste is polluting cities and eventually the whole planet, and with its pollution it is risking the health of the polluted communities as well. 

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