Over the past few years there have been numerous worrying reports from around the world about the massive deluge of “e-waste” that has been dumped into landfills. They’re calling it e-waste because this is the product that comes from discarded electronics, and the amount that’s being dumped is exponentially higher than it’s ever been before.
A recent report based on a study of about 3,000 sites in at least 49 countries states that these landfills are dangerously toxic to the environment and to most every living thing around them, including and especially the humans who earn a living working in them. A dump site called Agbobloshie near Accra in Ghana was cited as the worst on a long list of hazardous waste disposal sites. Previous reports have revealed that a good bit of that waste is coming from the UK and other western European countries.
The components of this toxic waste include gold, copper and other valuable recyclables, but the process of separating them from their covering – basically dismembering the gadget, whatever it was – is one that can be damaging in the extreme to those involved if it is not done properly. In places like Ghana and many others that have been reported over the past decade, workers are constantly exposed to gases and liquids that can (and do) kill them.
The study was conducted by researchers at New York’s Blacksmith Institute, a not-for-profit organisation working to solve pollution problems in developing countries. They said at least 215,000 tonnes of electronic discards are imported to the site in one year, and at the current rate that figure will be more than 400,000 by 2020.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), is an independent international organisation that also works to reduce or prevent damage to health and environment due to improper disposal of e-waste. Two years ago EIA found that one of Britain’s largest waste and recycling companies was selling e-waste like discarded TV sets to a third party, which in turn shipped them to sites in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, where it’s much cheaper to extract valuable components.
These and other reports have called on the government to enact and enforce stricter laws for recycling companies, but funding for the UK’s watchdog Environment Agency is also at risk in the current fiscal environment.