What We Don’t Know When We Throw Out Our Electronics

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

North Americans and Europeans discard as many as 40 million tons of electronic and hazardous waste annually.  This waste is typically sent to China, India, or African countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria.  The metals and chemicals contained in electronic products are often dangerous and poisonous.  Stephen Leahy reports that schools, churches, and markets in Ghana have tested positive for lead, cadmium, and other health-threatening pollutants associated with electronic waste at levels 50 times greater than deemed safe.  Furthermore, plastic associated with e-waste is often incinerated, releasing carcinogens.

Although shipments of electronic trash are banned, North America and Europe usually ships this waste as “reusable.”  A 2009 study by Ghana’s government reported that of all the waste received about 70 percent labeled as reusable was so in fact, and that another 15 percent was actually waste.  Like other African countries, Ghana does not have adequate facilities to safely dispose of e-waste, but the potential to recover precious metals found in this waste provide an economic incentive to import it, nonetheless.

The quantity of waste is bad for Ghana’s environment and it poses long-term health risks for Ghana’s citizens. Public health studies are underway, but at present we do not know how dangerous the effects will be for those who are forced to live within them.

Ghana and other countries plan to step forward with stricter regulations of imported e-waste, partly by increasing inspections.  Leahy notes that most of the general public is unaware of what happens to its electronic waste, and how it affects the health of those who must live with it.

In response to these concerns, efforts are underway to change the way we recycle our used electronics.  California was the first state to enact e-waste legislation in 2003, and has since recycled a billion pounds of e-waste.  And companies like Electronic Recyclers International have turned e-waste recycling into a multi-billion dollar a year industry creating a variety of jobs in service of environmental sustainability.

Title: “Ghana:  Toxic Electronic Waste Contaminates Surrounding Area”

Author: Stephen Leahy

Publication: All Africa

Date of Publication: 1 November 2011

URL: http://allafrica.com/stories/201111020037.html


Title: “E-Waste Dump in Africa Contaminating Community.”

Author: David Gabel

Publication: Environmental News Network

Date of Publication: 01 Nov 2011

URL: http://www.enn.com/pollution/article/43495


Title: “E-Waste Hits China.”

Author: Mitch Moxley

Publication: IPS News

Date of Publication: 21 Jul 2011

URL:  http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56572


Title: “Ghana: The Gold Diggers On African Dumping Sites.”

Author: Kent Mensah

Publication: All Africa

Date of Publication: 16 Jun 2011

URL: http://allafrica.com/stories/201106160913.html


Title: Toxic Electronic Waste Contaminates Nearby Areas.”

Author: Stephen Leahy

Publication: IPS News

Date of Publication: 01 Nov 2011

URL: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105678



Student Researchers:  Jennifer Hill, Sonoma State University;  Jeremy Kuhn, San Francisco State University

Faculty Evaluator: Sheila Katz, Sonoma State University;  Kenn Burrows, San Francisco State University