I was reading a story recently about how The European Union was going to take more stringent action on the shipping of so-called “e-waste” (computers and other electronic goods) to Ghana. Ghana has become the place for computers from Europe to get dumped. When you take your computer to the recycling centre you think you are doing the right thing environmentally. You cannot just dump a computer in a landfill in Europe or the USA (or most other developed countries). So, you take it to the recycling centre.
Rather than recycle the computer, back in the mid 1990s it was decided to ship these old computers to African countries, where poorer people could get to use a computer that would cost one tenth or less of the price of a new one. It seemed to be a win-win situation, it was cheaper to ship the computers than recycle them in the developed countries, and it was felt that developed countries were doing their bit to bridge the “digital divide” by giving the computers to developing countries.
But, sadly, over the years the business became corrupted, and by early in the 2000s the computers were not being used by the people in the developing countries at all, they were being dumped in landfill sites there. Today in Europe, millions of computes that are taken for “recycling” are instead ending up in toxic landfill sites like the one in Agbogbloshie in Accra, the capital city of Ghana.
There are many articles on this problem to be found on the web, but one of the best is this one from Time Magazine.
At these sites, thousands of people scavange for precious metals from the computers, burning away the plastic insulation to retrieve the metals. This leads to palls of acrid and toxic smoke rising into the sky near these dumps. Photographs and news clips that I have seen of Agbogbloshie suggest it is a living hell. Measurements suggest that levels of toxic chemicals are at least 100 times the allowable limits set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
So next time you take your computer or TV or other electronic device to your local recycling centre, try to find out before you do whether your local authority ships it out to Ghana or some other toxic landfill site rather than doing the proper thing and recycling it properly in an environmentally friendly way.