Tag Archives: e-Waste

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.


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.

More on E-waste

As we have discussed in class, e-waste is an enormous issue within the developing world. This is why the EU set an ambitious goal for 2021: to collect 65% of the electronic equipment and lamps used globally in the past three years and recycle it.[1] Unfortunately evidence from a scientific research project suggests that this will be impossible if governments do not add legal measures.

This project maps the e-waste flow in the Netherlands by tracking the origin and destination of electronic products. This has proven hard to handle, as there are a number of things that can happen to an electronic product once it is sold.


-Collected (by one of the two government programs)

-Recycled (by national recyclers on second-hand shops)

-Exported illegally

During the e-conference held on March 15th numerous representatives from places like the UN, Japan, and the U.S. discussed the findings of the study. From there it was concluded that more e-waste could be collected if various measures were put into place.

This article outlines various suggestions including “a registration mandate for collectors and recyclers” as well as, “mandating that local governments and small retailers hand in a certain amount of e-waste each year”. Most importantly it was suggested that all goods shipped to developing countries for reuse must be certified that they are in good working order.

Although the goal set by the UN has been criticized for being “too soft too slow” this study does suggest the goal is over ambitious without assistance from the government.[2]  Stephane Arditi stated that, “The main problem is the fact that we don’t have a proper collection system or an economic system to incentivize proper collection and treatment of e-waste.”[3]

Clearly there is work to be done if the amount of un-recycled e-waste is to be lowered.

The original study can be viewed here

[1] Defreitas, Susan. “EU E-Waste Message: Gonna Take More Work.” Earth Techling. 23 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. Link.

[2] “EU E-waste Recycling Goals Criticized.” UPI. 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. Link.

[3] Ibid

Underground Sewers to Wastelands


Newer is  better, that’s “the first law of the digital age”. Inside all of the electronic materials that we constantly rely on and dispose of are toxic chemicals and metals. These products, once dumped are called e-waste, and are shipped from the US to countries all over the world.

E-waste is the fastest growing component of municipal waste world wide. Land fills already taken over by styrofoam, paper, plastics and so on are being toppled over by e-waste. The toxic materials built into all of these systems creates highly deadly dumps, placed near many rural villages.

The US alone throws out ~130,000 computers- DAILY, and over 100 million cell phones annually. Sending our garbage over seas is irresponsible and doesn’t solve the problem of excessive waste, just displaces it. American companies make more by sending recyclables and e-waste abroad, where they have cheaper manual labor. Lower income labor means more hazardous conditions for the workers as well as less training to teach them how to correctly disassemble products.

Further more, the import of materials into places, such as Hong Kong, is illegal by US and Chinese law. The chinese town (Gway-Yu) in this clip has one of the highest levels of cancer causing dioxins in the world. the list of effects goes on and it is clear, pollution has ruined this town. E-waste is a political , ethical, environmental and prevalent issue that must be addressed with real laws and actions.





The Improper, Hazardous, & Unconscionable Disposal of e-Waste

I’m not going to write much, as the visuals from this FRONTLINE report do more justice to the situation than my words ever could. I urge you to witness, through this video, the detrimental & irresponsible ways in which electronics from developed countries are dumped into developing countries, placing the worst cons of technology onto the people who rarely–if ever–experience its pros.