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Electronic Waste in Ghana


Title Electronic Waste in Ghana
Director(s) Greenpeace International
Date released (year) 2008
Production company Greenpeace International
Length 16.14mins
Location Ghana
Keywords/tags Toxic waste, dumping, neoliberalism
Link to film
Synopsis The latest place where we have discovered   high tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our analysis   of samples taken from two electronic waste (e-waste) scrap yards in Ghana has   revealed severe contamination with hazardous chemicals.


Boys burning electronic cables and other   electrical components in order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper   wiring. This burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the   environment.

The ever-growing demand for the latest   fashionable mobile phone, flat screen TV or super-fast computer creates ever   larger amounts of obsolete electronics that are often laden with toxic   chemicals like lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants. Rather than   being safely recycled, much of this e-waste gets dumped in developing   countries. Previously, we have exposed pollution from e-waste scrap yards in China and India. Nigeria has also   been identified as a dumping ground for old electronics.

During our investigation into the shady e-waste trade, we uncovered evidence that e-waste is   being exported, often illegally, to Ghana from Europe and the US. We visited   Ghana to investigate workplace contamination from e-waste recycling and   disposal in the country.

In the yards, unprotected workers, many of   them children, dismantle computers and TVs with little more then stones in   search of metals that can be sold. The remaining plastic, cables and casing   is either burnt or simply dumped Some of   the samples contained toxic metals including lead in quantities as much as   one hundred times above background levels. Other chemicals such as   phthalates, some of which are known to interfere with sexual reproduction,   were found in most of the samples tested.  One sample also contained a   high level of chlorinated dioxins, known to promote cancer.

Dr. Kevin Bridgen, from our science unit,   has visited scrap yards in China, India and Ghana: “Many of the   chemicals released are highly toxic, some may affect children’s developing   reproductive systems, while others can affect brain development and the   nervous system.  In Ghana, China and India, workers, many of them   children, may be substantially exposed to these hazardous chemicals.”


Reviews/discussion Greenpeace’s   supporting discussion:

How does it get to   Ghana?

Containers filled with old and often broken   computers, monitors and TVs – from brands including Philips, Canon, Dell,   Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony – arrive in Ghana from Germany, Korea,   Switzerland and the Netherlands under the false label of “second-hand   goods”. Exporting e-waste from Europe is illegal but exporting old   electronics for ‘reuse’ allows unscrupulous traders to profit from dumping   old electronics in Ghana. The majority of the containers’ contents end up in   Ghana’s scrap yards to be crushed and burned by unprotected workers. Some traders report that   to get a shipping container with a few working computers they must accept   broken junk like old screens in the same container from exporters in   developed countries.

What’s the   solution?

While working computers and mobile phones   can have a new lease of life in some African countries, they create pollution   when thrown away due to the high levels of toxic chemicals they contain. This   is why we are pressuring the biggest electronic companies to   phase out toxic chemicals and introduce global recycling schemes. Both of   these steps are vital to tackle the growing tide of toxic e-waste.

Some companies are making progress towards   taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products. However, Philips and Sharp stand out for refusing to accept that they are   responsible for recycling their old products. The stance of these powerful   multinationals is ensuring there will always be a digital divide that they   prefer remains hidden, a dangerous divide with unprotected workers in   developing countries left with the toxic legacy.

Behind the story

Mid-2008   a Greenpeace team including campaigner Kim Schoppink and photographer Kate   Davison went to Ghana to document and gather evidence of what really happens   to our electronic waste.


Links to other resources Earth   Times:

Fabrice Babin’s 2011 film on e-waste in Ghana:

The Story of Electronics :


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