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.