E-Waste: Where Do Obsolete Technologies Go to Die?

There was a lot of great information shared throughout our class presentations this past week. Murali Shanmugavelan’s work, Tackling E-Waste, highlights an issue brought up in one of today’s presentations. While the work is very brief, it systematically outlines the challenges that E-Waste presents. Shanmugavelan cites E-waste as one of the fastest growing waste streams today and it is growing at three times the rate of municipal waste globally (Shanmugavelan 1). It is shocking to learn that ICT industry is expected to generate 53 million tons of e-waste by this year, with only 13% of this waste is reported to be recycled with or without adequate safety procedures. While some materials found in modern electronics may be valuable, proper extraction is both expensive and risky in terms of health. Proper recycling must be encouraged, but this is difficult to incentivize, especially in the context of the developing world. Potentially, there are three main stakeholders to consider that may bear the burden of paying for the recycling of E-waste:

  1. The producers
  2. The consumers
  3. The government

But we also must consider the role of many countries in the developing world, which have become recipients of obsolete electronics and hazardous materials, as shown in the picture below.

Image

According to BiztechAfrica, In 2011, 178 countries have agreed to accelerate a ban on the export and dumping of hazardous waste in developing countries. This included many countries in Africa, which have become dumping grounds for obsolete products.

I can’t help but wonder what we can do, and what is being done. I found two great examples of successful  and innovative projects  from this article, where Sarah Pouzevera asks: What are the consequences of new technologies on the environment, and how can we act responsibly, starting now?

I would like to share two examples with you all:

In Egypt’s Manshiyat Naser district, also known as “Garbage City”, girls come one day per week to learn how to turn trash into income. They work with a teacher to  break down non-working computers that have been donated or collected by the local garbage collectors and rebuild them into working computers. These computers sell for around $300 on the local market. Half of the proceeds go directly to the girls, and the other half goes to funding the warehouse facilities and trainers. The parts that cannot be repurposed into a new computer are sorted for recycling- including the valuable gold and silver of microprocessors, motherboards and circuit boards (Pouzevera). However, I was disheartened when I tried to learn more about this program, as I could not locate any more information. But the situation of trash in Cairo is a huge infrastructural barrier to the development of the nation, as there is not even a government led waste-pick-up program through the country.

According to Pouzevera, “Kenya is emerging as one of the leaders in e-waste management, having convened The National Stakeholders Workshop on Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment e-Waste Nairobi 2010.” Kenya is also one of the first African countries to implement a government-led e-waste policy and strategy. Computers for Schools Kenya(CFSK) a non-governmental organization, “dismantles computers into metals, wires, plastic, aluminum, copper, monitors and electronic boards which are then sold separately”. The monitors are also converted into TV sets after its boards are replaced with those of televisions.

I think these examples raise a separate subset of issues related to ICTs  and development that we have not yet discussed in class at length. A lot of questions are raised as we consider how the issue of trash should be addressed.

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About janinewilkin

Undergraduate student at Tulane University. Pursuing a major in English and International Development with a minor in Painting. View all posts by janinewilkin

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