Greenpeace has voiced its alarming concerns about the rising trend of ewaste in the African continent. According to Greenpeace, the ‘industry’ of ewaste disposal is shifting from the Asian continent to the African one. With this issue in its sights, Greenpeace placed the onus of eliminating hazardous chemicals from electronic products on its manufacturers, mostly the western companies. Greenpeace cited the growing practice of ewaste generated by the developed world ending up in the hands of adolescent garbage scavengers in the poor African countries.
In its latest report, Greenpeace speaks out against the electronic waste trade, which it says is spreading from Asia to West Africa – especially Ghana, where discarded TVs and computers that contain toxic materials are being dismantled by children as young as 5.
The chief exporter of ewaste appears to be the European Union; inspite of environmental safeguards prohibiting such exports. The report indicts countries such as Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland as also the Asian industrial powerhouse, South Korea of encouraging the malpractice.
The electronic materials are exported under the misappropriated label of ‘second hand goods’, but their actual worthiness is questionable. In Africa, the goods are ostensibly broken down into scrap. The process used in the African countries is crude and manually intensive without any technological buffer for environmental damage control. In scrap yards, the waste is crushed or burned to separate plastics to extract valuable metals like aluminum or copper, a process that not only pollutes the environment but exposes unprotected workers to toxic fumes.
Greenpeace conducted field investigations to gauge the lethality of the practice. Soil samples taken from two places in Ghana revealed concentrations of lead and phthalates (a salt of pthalic acid), which are suspected of causing reproductive problems.
The growing practice of ewaste export by unscrupulous middlemen highlights the failure of the governments to effectively implement the existing laws. The EU specifically forbids ewaste exports (surprisingly, the U.S does not), but the latest report from Greenpeace flies in the face of existing laws.
Though, leading manufacturers around the world have implemented recycling initiatives, but the evidence points towards the depressing fact that only a small portion of products are coming back to the shop for recycling. Most of it is finding its way to the burgeoning Asian and African scrap industry. As production and sales climb, are we losing the battle to curb the menace of ewaste?
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