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Posted May 3rd, 2011

Irresponsible E-cycling Conjures Catastrophe

To perform an illusion, a magician employs a number of techniques to make their trick appear truly enchanted. If done well, the audience is left amazed because, for a moment, they are able to suspend reality and believe that the impossible feats performed in front of their eyes are in fact possible. However, it is what is unseen—a sleight-of-hand, those few seconds of out-of-sight-out-of-mind—that is the true success. For, as long as the audience is entertained, how the performance came to pass shouldn’t really matter, should it?

At times, the hocus pocus of some disreputable firms in the electronics recycling industry can seem just as fantastic as the spectacles of the best magicians. A recent article published on allAfrica.com shed light on some of the questionable electronics and computer recycling practices being conjured by the world’s developed nations. The August 27, 2009 write-up detailed how some recyclers have used their own bag of tricks to convince their clients of one truth, when in fact, the workings behind the scenes reveal something far more deceptive.

Specifically, the feature mentions an investigation launched by Greenpeace International to expose the less than transparent processing methods of a United Kingdom electronics recycler. By planting traceable pieces within a batch of end-of-life electronic goods destined for recycling, Greenpeace was able to discern how developing nations like Nigeria, are becoming e-waste dumping grounds for industrialized nations, like the U.K.

Instead of being responsibly processed as promised by the U.K. firm, the Greenpeace items were tracked to Nigeria, where they were sold under the designation of second-hand electronics. Markets in various major cities within this African nation, and many others, have popped up in recent years, specifically to answer the demand for these “salvaged” electronics. Because the average income for the citizens of these nations does not allow for the purchase of the latest and greatest in computers and other technologies, there’s a clamor for the next best thing, i.e. used items discarded from developed nations. However, that does not mean that the methods by which they are arriving is legitimate.

The practices outlined within the recent allAfrica.com article are, at the least, legally questionable, and, at the most, in violation of international environmental and contractual service laws. Also in question is the final disposal of electronics that prove not saleable within these African markets.

A NationalGeographic.com article titled “High-Tech Trash” catalogued the ramifications of irresponsible electronics and computer recycling methods within areas like Nigeria and Ghana. Practices, such as burning plastic casings from wiring and other computer components in order to expose profitable metals, are releasing environmentally catastrophic toxins into the air that are of great detriment to both the lands and people within close proximity of e-waste dumps. Additionally, any remaining electronic and computer pieces that cannot be reused are abandoned, leaving their heavy metals, like lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, to leech into the soil and ground water.

It’s a rather dangerous shell game, isn’t it? While less than responsible electronics recyclers use numerous slight-of-hand tricks to make your old electronics and computers disappear, developing nations like those in Africa are witnessing the reality of the illusion, and they are far from magical.

 

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