E-waste (electronic waste) is a name given to electronical products nearing the end of their use life and gadgets that no longer serve any purpose to the original purchaser, like, computers, mobile phones, fax machines, copiers.
E-Waste encompasses household appliances like televisions, stereos, DVDs, refrigerators, microwaves, washing machines, air-conditioners, etc. The term e-waste is subject to a number of definitions. Technological advancement is at its peak and we are celebrating it. As we celebrate technology and globalisation, can we consider e-waste as a hazard? There are different global environmental crises, but electronic waste is rarely a topic of concern. Electronics nowadays have a shorter life cycle as compared to years back,especially cellphones and computers. Producers are upgrading their gadgets every now and then, coming up with new versions. It is so unfortunate that in the midst of celebrating new technology, consumers are ignoring what will happen to the old gadgets. Much e-waste is directed to landfills and incinerators as an insignificant percentage is being recycled, posing serious health and ecological problems.
E-waste takes indefinite time to decompose in landfills, leaching chemicals into the ground, hence contaminating soil and ground water. Besides these ecological hazards, e-waste poses serious health threats to human life. E-waste contains vast amounts of toxic ingredients like mercury, arsenic, lead, selenium and other flame retardants which are emitted when burning. Mercury, even at low doses can lead to brain damage or kidney problems, beryllium seen on many connectors and motherboards of computers is considered a human carcinogen. Lead, pose much damage, especially brain damage to children, Brominated Flame Retardants(BFRs) affect normal hormonal functions for normal human development. Cadium causes cancer when it accumulates in a human body and may result in kidney damage. Of recent E-Waste has become such a huge problem, therefore it is important to understand some issues surrounding the crisis. As developing countries, are we at the right side of globalisation and technological advancement or not?
A number of efforts that have been put in place to curb the e-waste crisis, but to what effect? The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal comes to mind. This Convention’s constitution put stricter regulations pertaining to the exportation of e-waste to developing countries. After this Convention, in 1995, the Basel Ban Amendment was implemented to prohibit the illegal movement of e-waste from developed to developing nations. The “fishy” thing now is only 28 countries rectified and the ban has not come into force since 1995.The Organisation of African Unity in 1998,
After all these efforts did this trade in e-waste stop? No! We are witnessing an alarming growth in illegal trade in electronics. Reason being poor implementation of policies in the developing world. In industrialised nations, following a number of summits there are stringent laws to regulate dumping of industrial waste. Therefore, disposal of e-waste is very expensive in those nations. In this case, to avoid the expensive dumping of technological waste, e-waste is shipped to the poor African and Asian countries where this scrap is received willingly by recyclers scrap dealers, refurbishers and traders. Larry Summer in 1991 justified movement and exportation of scrap hazardous technology from the developed world to Less Developed Countries (LDC), saying that developing nations have much cleaner air and waters, which they actually don’t deserve. He went on to yap that poor nations cannot afford environmental protection as they are actually struggling to make a daily living and that clean water and air are natural resources only meant for the affluent but are a luxury for the LDCs. There is a lot of politicking surrounding the transboundary e-waste trajectory. As developing countries, we somehow need to understand the motives behind the increase in importation of industrial waste from the developed world. Are we not just a dumping ground for their outdated technologies? Thousands of computers come to our rural schools in the name of charity and donations, two years or less down the line they have reached their end of life. Does aid really come as a free lunch? We really need to rethink this increased shipping and coming in of computers and other technological gadgets to developing countries. There is more bad to this trade than good.
Unregulated e-waste importation is posing serious sustainability issues to LDCs as both the environment and human health are at risk. Yes, e- waste is providing a lucrative income to local traders, but let us be conscious and knowledgeable about the problems and risks associated with e-waste.
A number of things can be done to regulate impacts and problems associated with e-waste includinrigid environmental and health regulations which should be enforced in Developing Countries.
*Fadzai Dzapata: Social Ecologist