Monday, 18 June 2012

GI - Poisoning the Poor

In 2008, Greenpeace International put out an article called Poisoning the Poor – Electronic Waste in Ghana.  I found it when I was writing a paper about waste management in Ghana.  This article angered me terribly.  I have since used this article in other papers.  I cannot believe our need for electronics has gone this far.  Then again, this is nothing, compared to how this same need is affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though I will discuss that topic in a later post.

European and American electronic waste is being illegally sent to Ghana.  When it reaches there, the workers take these electronics apart so they can sell the precious metals found within.  These workers are unprotected and many are children.  These products already contain toxic materials, which may affect sexual reproduction and child development, however this is not the end of exposure to toxins.  Many of the metals are within other materials such as plastic and the workers often burn through the outer materials.  This kind of smoke has a terrible effect on the local and global atmosphere but it also has detrimental  effects on the workers’ health.

This electronic waste gets to Ghana from the Netherlands, Korea, Switzerland and Germany under the guise of second-hand goods.  By calling it second-hands goods, the companies appear to follow the rules AND make money off of these materials.  The problem is, these containers are filled with broken and faulty products with low numbers of working products.  What is more, traders have reported that to get the working materials, they must accept whole containers of faulty products.

With any problem should always come a solution.  Greanpeace does offer a solution.  That solution is to pressure electronics companies, primarily the biggest ones, to stop using toxic chemicals in their products and to also take responsibility for recycling their products at the end of their life.  Some companies have been working to make this change but as of publication of this article, Philips and Sharp refuse to take any responsibility.  These companies maintain that there will always be a digital divide, one that has dangerous effects on workers in developing countries, and these powerful multinationals hope to keep this hidden from the general public.

Lastly, if you don’t read the article, I do recommend you at least watch the video found on the same page.

And let’s not forget the weekly quote, this one from Ike Skelton:
Congress must make it clear that common animal waste will not expose farmers to liability under Superfund, while ensuring continued action to clean up legitimate hazardous waste sites around the nation.

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