Explainer: E-waste disposal in Africa

Infographic by Camryn Jackson

A study completed by the United Nations stated that western corporations and businesses have distributed their e-waste onto African countries, such as Ghana for years now.

Many Africans are affected by an abundance of waste and trash that does not even belong to them. This is affecting their day to day life and their way of life.

What is E-waste?

E-waste consists of unwanted or unnecessary electronic products such as computers, cell phones and televisions.

How do Western corporations and businesses play a part in it?

Because of the digital age and the big boost of technology, electronics have become a necessity in the economy. Everywhere there is to look, people are using some form of technology.

Because of the consumerism culture that we have, new products are constantly created—meaning that electronic waste also increases. A lot of people prefer to buy the newest electronics so they constantly upgrade. People are not always aware of the damage that is doing to the environment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, by 2008, Americans owned approximately three billion electronic products. By 2012, the amount of electronic waste in the U.S. was approximately at more than 400 million items per year.

As electronic consumerism increases, it is also making it increasingly harder to the dispose of waste the right way. As stated in “Toxic Terrorism: A Crisis in Global Waste Trading”, it is cheaper for companies in industrialized countries to dispose of their e-waste in developing countries.

How does this waste end up in African countries? 

According to the essay “Toxic Terrorism: A Crisis in Global Waste Trading”, Developed countries (such as the U.S.) began to feel pressure to dispose of their waste in cheaper locations. This became known as “Toxic Terrorism”

What is Toxic Terrorism?

Toxic Terrorism is known as the illegal dumping of hazardous electronic waste in developing and poor countries.

How does this endanger African countries?

According to the United Nation Commission on Human Rights, e-waste dumping in poor countries affects the health and wellbeing of millions of people and causes environmental degradation.

The exposure to toxic e-waste has created many health risks due to exposure to certain chemicals. This exposure has led to individuals developing cognitive learning disabilities, and a higher probability of being diagnosed with cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2007, women who lived near known waste sites that were labeled as “most toxic” had a higher risk of dying and developing liver cancer.

Due to economic inequity and other injustices, developing countries usually choose to accept deals offered to them by rich corporations despite the potentially dangerous and negative effects it can have on their communities.

What can be done about it?

While there have been international policies put in place (along with state and local level regulation), the e-waste epidemic in African countries still persists.

With the rise of social media and the increased awareness of e-waste disposal, more people are starting to use their resources to spread the word. Because there is more awareness, more policy reforms are being put in place to maintain e-waste disposal.

This article was curated with information from “Toxic Terrorism: A Crisis in Global Waste Trading” by Marthe Sende.