Toxic Technology

By McConnell, Andrew | Geographical, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Toxic Technology


McConnell, Andrew, Geographical


Our quest to own the latest electronic gadgetry is driving a growing trade in e-waste. Of the 20-50 million tonnes disposed of each year, almost three quarters will end up in poor nations such as Ghana. At Agbogbloshie dump in Accra, the nation's main e-waste recycling centre, unregulated manual processing is causing toxic metals--including lead, cadmium and mercury--to be released, causing untold damage to human health and the environment

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The plastic casing of a computer monitor lies abandoned in a heavily polluted lagoon at Agbogbloshie dump in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The UN estimates that between 20 and 50 million tones of e-waste is produced globally each year. 70 per cent of which will end up in poor African nations such as Ghana. Nigeria and Ivory Coast, where there is little or no regulation of recycling or disposal. Traders bypass international laws designed to prevent obsolete electronic goods being exported by labelling the equipment as second-hand goods or charity donations. In reality, as much as 80 per cent of the computers sent to Ghana are useless, ending up at Agbogbloshie, the main centre for e-waste recycling in Ghana. Many electronic products, such as desktop and laptop computers, and mobile phones, contain numerous hazardous chemicals and materials, which are often released during the recycling or disposal process, presenting a serious threat to human and environmental health

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ABOVE: children transport their salvaged goods across Agbogbloshie dump. Computers, monitors and TVs are the most common items to be processed at the dump, where they are manually dismantled at numerous small workshops, often by children aged between 11 and 18, who work with bare hands and basic tools. Copper and other recovered metal is sold to dealers who supply local industries, such as an iron rod factory in Tema; BELOW: after all of the useful components have been stripped out, the remaining parts are either dumped or burnt. A 2008 Greenpeace investigation into the extent of environmental contamination caused by the recycling and disposal of e-waste found numerous examples of hazardous chemicals in soil and sediment samples taken from Agbogbloshie and another dump in Korforidua

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BELOW: stacking computers that could potentially be reused--the hard drives of which might still contain Sensitive data. Only 20 per Cent of the e-waste that arrives in Ghana is in good working order and can be reused. …

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