The alarming trend of e-waste in developing nations
// Posted by SarahP on 06/11/2015 (6:02 PM)
In today’s society, “waste not want not” is incorporated into our collective psyche, encouraging recycling and reusing products whenever humanly possible. As the Australian newscast and Slade’s “Made to Break” both indicate, the culture of disposal is an American invention but has spread worldwide. The American cancer of disposability began with simple sanitary objects such as razors, tampons, and tissues, but moved to heavier industry as fast as Model T Fords could roll off the assembly line in Dearborn.
The rapid growth of technology has led to an international obsession with technological obsolescence, as consumers in more affluent nations want the newest, trendiest things that the advertising agencies convince them that they can’t live without. These range from flat screen TVs to 4G smartphones, and the consequences for not recycling the now-retired electronics are proving dire in many countries. However, Searle’s prediction that the 2009 DTV transition in the United States (as well as later ones in other countries) would cause a massive surge in e-waste containing analog television sets has been somewhat less than predicted, as converter boxes have given outdated sets a new lease on life.
Prior to the Basel Convention, the main practice was for Western nations, Japan, South Korea, and Australia to send their obsolete electronics to developing nations, where cities such as Guiyu in China and Accra in Ghana are subject to dangerous air and water pollution due to the harmful components used in the production of cathode ray televisions and older cell phones, as well as lead-based acids used to melt precious metals out of circuit boards. The Australian report indicated that air pollution in Ghana makes it difficult to breathe, and illnesses due to lung sensitivity are at all-time highs. In Guyiu, the blood of many local children was tested, and extremely elevated levels of lead was found, especially compared with blood from children in another nearby town that does not act as a dumping ground for Western e-waste.
Proper recycling of electronic waste has not been regulated nationwide in the United States, resulting in confusion across states, where different recycling laws exist for outdated electronics. Attempts at a national standardization failed in Congress in 2004, and have not been properly reintroduced. If the federal government, as well as the states, were to properly follow the Basel Convention protocols (especially if they ratified the accords), then they would have better plans for internal disposal of hazardous e-waste, reducing the threat of health damage in the United States, as well as developing nations that have spent years receiving these devices.
Electronic waste has been the fastest-growing environmental threat of the last fifty years. As computer, telephone, and television technology rapidly improve and streamline, the newly-obsolete predecessors (just the latest victims in the American cult of obsolescence) are improperly disposed of, often sent to the world’s developing nations, where they are burned or washed in acids, resulting in severe pollution for miles around the dump sites, leading to widespread illness of the local population. The Basel Convention, which the United States has yet to ratify, works to curb the e-waste problem by improving internal disposal of hazardous wastes and regulation of their sites, but does not fix the long-term health problems in Accra or Guiyu.
Sorry I could not find a video clip of this, so the sound clip will have to do… This is the “Recycle” song from the 90’s Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life. Enjoy!