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Our electronic waste is poisoning the countries desperate enough to take it off our hands

Electronics often carry toxic chemicals such as zinc, flame retardants, barium, nickel, and lead which can damage the kidneys and nervous systems of both humans and animals.

 Have you ever wondered where your used electronics go after you recycle them away? Many end up in developing countries such as China, Thailand, the Philippines and Africa, where they pose a serious threat to the environment and the people that deal with them.  

 The largest e-waste dump in the world is in Agbogbloshie, an area in Ghana’s capital. These dumps tend to reside in developing countries where the people living in the area are very poor with no place else to turn so they try to make a business out of the junk. These dumps affect everything, from the people who live there, to the environment around them.   

 The term “e-waste” can loosely be defined as electronics that have reached the end of their useful life that are thrown away by consumers. This can be very dangerous as some of these electronics carry toxic chemicals such as zinc, flame retardants, barium, nickel, and lead. If they get warmed up, those chemicals get released into the atmosphere which is very damaging to the environment and to the locals living and working nearby. These chemicals may contribute to these people dying at very young ages. The toxins may cause damage to blood and the kidneys in addition to the central and peripheral nervous system. And even when toxic chemicals are not released into the air which is detrimental to climate change, they can also seep into the ground which contaminates the water and soil affecting the animals and plants on land as well as the sea life. 

E-waste dumps are found were people do not have better options. Locals will come to the dump to search for valuable materials within the electronics such as gold, silver and copper to sell. Some of the people who work in these dumps are very young children who will spend hours searching searching through different electronics and pulling wires until they have a big enough pile to sell. Many of these children are without parents and must work alone in order to support themselves.

Some people run businesses selling second hand items like monitors and speakers salvaged from the waste. The owners of the businesses hire people to search the scrap yards for these items and bring them back to be repaired and sold. In Ghana, the second-hand industry is much more lucrative than salvaging the raw materials. The people working for these businesses tend to have a more stable income whereas the people (mostly children) collecting scrap metal only make enough for about one meal per day. 

The area in Agbogbloshie where the e-waste dump is located used to a beautiful place filled with lush green trees and plants. Now it is covered in black smoke, with no sign of life, except for the humans living there. The toxic chemicals within the electronics have poisoned the soil as well as the air leaving the animals with little to no food causing them to relocate and find an adequate living environment. The current environment in these dumps is not habitable but its condition is still reversible, for now.

The environment will continue to be affected by these dumps and may not be livable for humans much longer. But for now, those who work in the dumps have nowhere else to turn. 

image credit: baselactionnetwork, flickr

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