How guilty should the West feel about eWaste in Africa?

It’s easy to see pictures of toxic eWaste dumps outside of Accra, Ghana (like the ones below by Michael Ciaglo) and be led into a rich-world guilt trip (like this one on Gizmodo). These are obviously horrible, toxic working conditions, but what exactly leads to them is much less straightforward than the “West dumps toxic waste on Africa” narrative.  The majority of the electronics being “recycled” here came most recently from Africa (yes, they were imported used goods from the developed world, but if you’re running an internet cafe in Accra, and getting Ghanians reading the Wikipedia… you’re probably not going to buy fancy new stuff.)  Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of western eWaste does apparently end up being recycled within the OECD.  See this article by Adam Minter for an overview (and also his global scrap trade blog: Shanghai Scrap).  And for vastly more detail, the Basel Convention’s reports on African eWaste.

Burning Wire

African Hands and eWaste

One thought on “How guilty should the West feel about eWaste in Africa?”

  1. It is hard not to have a severe reaction to images such as these so thank you for detailing the complexities of the issue. There is always much more to the story, which is important to broadcast. In Australia, we export much of our e-waste to other nations. At Recharge the Environment, we feel like this should change because regardless on the impact, nations should be responsible for their own waste. http://rechargeenviro.wordpress.com

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