The E-Waste Scandal and Modern Economic Colonialism

Electronics Recycling: The Global Challenge

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

Electronics Recycling is about the latest version of economic colonialism – paying third world countries to dispose of toxic first world products. At present the industrial North pays for third world workers to risk a myriad of toxic exposures to recycle discarded cellphones, computers, printers and other electronic devices.

Theoretically it’s illegal under the UN Basel Convention (1989) to ship e-waste to international destinations. Sadly there’s no way to enforce the ban. Many first world recyclers exploit a loophole that permits international shipping of operational devices for secondhand use. Many don’t work though. In 2016, 19% of electronic devices shipped to Lagos (Nigeria) were defunct.

Many third world countries are reluctant to ban e-waste altogether due to the livelihood it provides approximately 15 million informal e-waste workers. Instead they advocate for laws setting high enough e-waste charges to enable “informal” workers to go professional and adopt processes that enable them to recycle dangerous components without endangering their health.

China, Japan and Korea all have excellent laws (and training programs) to this end.

The filmmakers would like to see more industrialized countries pass laws similar to the EU regulation making manufacturers (instead of taxpayers) responsible for recycling discarded electronic devices. They would also like to see more first world consumers resist the compulsion to upgrade to a new cellphone every year.


The Disposable People Who Process Our Toxic E-Waste

ToxiCity: A Graveyard for Electronics and People

RT (2017)

Film Review

Toxic e-waste is equally poisonous to the planet and the third world poor who are forced to process it for a living. The only truly humane and sustainable solution to toxic e-waste is to force big tech giants like Apple, Google and Dell (and the billionaires who run them) to assume responsibility for end-of-life disposal, instead of externalizing this cost to the rest of us.

This documentary is about Agbogbloshie in Acra Ghana, the largest toxic waste dump in the world, and the men, women and children who pick through electronic waste from Asia, the US, Australia and western Europe. Although it’s illegal to employ child labor or import e-waste in Ghana, these laws are never enforced.

The filmmakers interview various “waste managers” who run the site, as well as a 10 year old boy, a fifteen year old girl and the “waste site coordinator.”  The latter  adjudicates disputes and deals with the police when fights break out. The 10 year old (an orphan) earns about $8-10 a days from the scrap metal he collects. This is enough to buy two meals. The 15-year-old was forced to leave school because her parents had no money to pay for her school fees, uniform or textbooks. She prepares food to sell to other scavengers and hopes to return to school and become a nurse.

Scavenging e-waste among the burning rubber and plastics at Agbogbloshie is a highly dangerous occupation due to the high risk of cadmium and lead toxicity. Doctors at a nearly clinic also report an increased incidence of respiratory infection among children who live and work there.