9 May 2011

Follow the e-waste trail

This archived Greenpeace photo essay is a fascinating investigation into the illegal export of waste electronic goods from a city recycle centre in Basingstoke UK, to a sprawling electronics market in the Nigerian city of Lagos.

(The disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is a growing issue. Findings from ABI Research reveal 53 million tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2009. This amount includes broken or obsolete computers, printers, mobile phones, televisions, audio equipment and refrigerators which can contain harmful substances such as lead, bromine, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. Perhaps alarming is how little of this e-waste is processed and recycled by government regulated initiatives.

Despite national and international efforts to prevent export (including an EU ban in the mid-1990s), WEEE collected in North America and Western Europe is routinely shipped to developing and newly industrialised countries (Nigeria, Ghana, China, India, Pakistan) on the promise of being recycled or dismantled safely and reused on arrival. Left unregulated, unscrupulous exporters are dumping shipments of e-waste within these poor regions at the cost to the environment and to the health of the local communities who scavenge through the waste hoping to salvage valuable iron, copper, silicone and nickel from electrical and electronic components.

With recent forecasts predicting global e-waste recovery/reclamation revenues will reach $14.7 billion by 2014, only proper recycling and legal frameworks worldwide will help to ensure that WEEE disposal doesn't remain a dirty business!)

(Photo essay via Greenpeace, further reading at The Independent and BBC News)