Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Computer Graveyard in Ghana

I was alarmed when I read this article from BBC news.It states that ..

"Have you ever wondered where old computers end up? China and India have been popular destinations, but in Ghana the piles of old computers are increasing every week even though the trade is illegal.

As we upgrade at an ever faster rate, campaigners are calling for action to prevent toxic, electronic or "e" waste being dumped on poor countries.

The United Nations believes we generate between 20m and 50m tonnes of e-waste around the world each year.

Agbobloshie dump site in Ghana's capital, Accra, is a computer graveyard. But PCs are not given a decent, safe burial - they are dumped on this expanding, toxic treasure trove.

Many of the well-known brands are there: Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Philips, Canon, Hewlett Packard.

Labels give away the fact that many lived their useful lives in the UK: "Richmond upon Thames College", "Southampton City Council", "Kent County Council", are just a few.

They are dissected for any reusable parts like lenses from the disc drives and circuit boards, and with global scrap prices soaring, metals are in high demand.

In large areas of this dump the ground is no longer brown earth, it is a carpet of broken glass. But what is not so visible poses a greater danger.

Environmental campaign group Greenpeace took soil and water samples from the scrap market and found high concentrations of leads, phthalates or plastic softeners and dioxins that are known to promote cancer.

"Chemicals like lead are very dangerous especially for children. They affect the brain when it is developing and therefore cause a lower IQ when they grow up," Greenpeace's Kim Schoppink says.

"Other chemicals we found cause cancer or disrupt your hormone system."

PCs even provide rickety stepping stones over a toxic bog in one area of the rubbish dump.

As people tip-toe across the "crazy paving" of obsolete monitor casings, they balance bags of recyclable computer innards on their heads.

They are heading for the fires where bundles of computer cables are thrown.

Thick black smoke blows across the site seven days a week. In order to retrieve the valuable copper from the cables, the plastic coating is burnt off and old car tyres are thrown on to the flames to keep the fires burning.

You are fortunate that the internet does not provide you with a sense of smell because Agbobloshie is a real test for the nostrils.

In addition to the toxic e-waste, the discarded rubbish and the acrid smoke which blows over the suburb, it is also a huge open air toilet.

People work there seven days a week, taking showers after a brief visit, and the water runs black down the plug hole.

There are international laws banning the export of computer waste but people are getting round this by labelling the shipments "usable second-hand goods".

"My research shows that about 90% of the computers are just junk. They just don't work. This is dumping."

"About 10% are put to good use the rest go straight to Agbobloshie dump site and other dumps around the country where they contaminate ground water, surface water, the rivers and the streams. And they all end up in the sea and that's where we get all the fish," he tells me.

Greenpeace is calling for an end to what it calls "poisoning the poor". It wants electronics manufacturers to stop using hazardous materials and to take responsibility for the whole lifecycle of their products.But unless waste management policies are enforced, in our disposable age of frequent computer upgrades, this poisonous supply will not be drying up soon.