E – Waste and Environment: How The Developed Countries Are ‘Dumping’ Their Responsibility

Posted on October 30, 2010 in Environment

By Saachi Sharma:

How many mobile phones, television sets, computers, watches, laptops, calculators, washing machines, air conditioners, DVD’s and microwaves have you discarded till now? More importantly, do you know where these items have gone? The surge in electronic waste, which can be attributed to the advent of globalization, technology dependence, industrialization and consumerism, is indeed a cause of grave concern. Since this trend is relatively recent (though fast emerging), the ways to manage this excessive E-Waste, right from its production to its subsequent disposal remain grossly inadequate, to put it mildly.

By establishing material-purchase review, control procedures and inventory tracking systems, most developed countries have eliminated waste disposal costs, reduced raw material costs and have a well established revenue collection system from salable wastes. And as for the surplus waste, the world is their landfill. It comes as no surprise that the largest consumer of electronic goods is also the world’s largest disposer – The USA, which claims to be the harbinger of integrity, routinely dumps E-Waste in developing countries. In fact, more than 3.3 million tons of excess E-Waste has been dumped in landfills outside slums annually in developing countries like India, China and Ghana, often by falsely declaring them as donations or goods to be reused. These are toxic waste and in effect became potential environmental hazards to civilians, particularly workers and slum dwellers. The developing countries, especially LDC’s (Least Developed Countries,) are unable to cope up with huge backlogs of toxic waste sent for disposal by the rich countries, which have now amounted to dangerously high stockpiles.

It is interesting to know how E – Waste gets from point A to point B. One telling example is that of the company Executive Recycling, a corporate based in Colorado that is contracted to dispose of E – Waste in an environmentally safe manner. Executive Recycling promotes itself as an eco-friendly corporation, sponsoring Earth Day events and a “Go Green” campaign in Colorado. As if reiterating their stand, the Executive Recycling web page even warns of the dangers posed by E – Waste. So, how does Executive Recycling keep Americans safe from toxic E – Waste? Rather than exposing Americans to their self produced hazardous waste, Executive Recycling dumps it on the Chinese. A recent story by the news journal 60 Minutes documents how toxic materials are shipped by Executive Recycling, and other first world recycling companies, from America to destinations in China.

One such destination is Guiyu, China, a city with a growing population, where peasants have come after being driven off their native land. These migrants breakdown and burn old computers and other electronics by dealing with highly toxic materials without protective equipment, in order to make the two ends meet. They report that their lungs burn and they have trouble breathing. Their skin is damaged with scars and burns. The local water has become undrinkable so much so that drinking water has to be trucked in. Guiyu has the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. Seven out of ten children have too much lead in their blood and miscarriages are six times more likely there. E – Waste has become the new ‘White Man’s Burden’, with the premise being – ‘when you can’t handle it (E – Waste), send it to someone who can’t handle it either.’

Though the Basel Convention prohibits the export of E – Waste, countries wielding considerable economic and political clout continue to blatantly flout these rules, thereby leading to appalling ramifications on the countries where the waste is being dumped. The USA (largest E-Waste producer), for obvious reasons, is not a signatory to this treaty, thus rendering it partially ineffective. Unless this differential application of international laws does not cease, we will be soon looking at an extremely polarized world, characterized by unprecedented environmental destruction in countries already plagued with poverty, disease, dysfunctional governance and civil wars.

Image courtesy: http://www.fastcompany.com/1551532/hp-takes-stand-against-e-waste-in-developing-countries