The Growing Problem of E-Waste

Empa_eWaste_Nigeria_01

Thinking of chunking that old computer, laptop, or yes, even that tablet that is now outdated?

Perhaps this news release will make you think twice.

A new study from the United Nations finds that computer exports to Africa are creating a huge waste problem. According to the report:

“West Africa faces a rising tide of E-waste generated by domestic consumption of new and used electrical and electronic equipment, according to a new United Nations report. Domestic consumption makes up the majority (up to 85 percent) of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) produced in the region, according to the study. The E-waste problem in West Africa is further exacerbated by an ongoing stream of used equipment from industrialized countries, significant volumes of which prove unsuitable for re-use.”

(See full report here)

Another way of re-using old computers:

This is the dump site at the Agbogbloshie informal scrap metal market in Accra/Ghana.

In this fast-paced, quickly-changing world we are now a part of, we often trash our “old” computers and devices for the newest, latest, and greatest.  I’m still holding onto my 1st-gen iPad that I got on opening week.  But as the upcoming iPad3 release date approaches I admit that I get more and more tempted to dump the old for the new.  Now, though, I may hesitate to pull the trigger.  While I don’t live in West Africa, I know that throwing old computer technology away in the trash is bad for the environment no matter where you live.

Tech pundits have long touted the ecological benefits of new technology such as e-readers.  Yet, those benefits work so long as we hold onto our technology for its intended lifespan (as opposed to its marketed lifespan), and then properly recycle the components when finished.

Fortunately, as the report indicates, it is in this latter point that hope has begun to flourish in Africa.  New opportunities are created in very promising ways.  They highlight the extent of this promise by stating:

“In contrast to the informal recycling sector, where collection and recycling of E-waste is almost exclusively carried out by individuals largely consisting of migrant laborers who are often stigmatized in African societies as «scavengers», refurbishment is viewed as a relatively attractive economic opportunity for an increasingly well-educated, semi-professional labor force.” (page 2)

So, the next time you think about replacing the old with the new, do some research and find the appropriate ways to recycle your old components.

You may just help the planet and support well-paying jobs in the process.

Chris Ruddell

I'm an Associate Pastor in the United Methodist Church and I serve as a trustee for Saint Paul School of Theology, with campuses in Kansas City, MO and Oklahoma City, OK. I'm also the author and creator of Church Tech Blog, at www.churchtechblog.org and the founder of Church Phone Apps at www.churchphoneapps.com

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  1. says

    Here in Ontario a few years ago we put an “electronics recycling tax” (not a significant increase in cost) on any electronics bought. So now if we want to recycle them when we’re done, we can drop them off at any of a variety of stores like Staples who will take them for free. Definitely worth the couple of minutes to do instead of just throwing it out.

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