Boys burning electronic cables and other electrical components in order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring. This burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the environment.
The ever-growing demand for the latest fashionable mobile phone,
flat screen TV or super-fast computer creates ever larger amounts
of obsolete electronics that are often laden with toxic chemicals
like lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants. Rather than
being safely recycled, much of this e-waste gets dumped in
developing countries. Previously, we have exposed pollution from
e-waste scrap yards in
China and India. Nigeria has also been identified as a dumping ground for old electronics.
During our investigation into the
shady e-waste trade, we uncovered evidence that e-waste is
being exported, often illegally, to Ghana from Europe and the US.
We visited Ghana to investigate workplace contamination from
e-waste recycling and disposal in the country.
In the yards, unprotected workers, many of them children,
dismantle computers and TVs with little more then stones in search
of metals that can be sold. The remaining plastic, cables and
casing is either burnt or simply dumped:
Some of the samples contained toxic metals including lead in
quantities as much as one hundred times above background levels.
Other chemicals such as phthalates, some of which are known to
interfere with sexual reproduction, were found in most of the
samples tested. One sample also contained a high level of
chlorinated dioxins, known to promote cancer.
Dr. Kevin Bridgen, from our science unit, has visited scrap
yards in China, India and Ghana: "Many of the chemicals released
are highly toxic, some may affect children's developing
reproductive systems, while others can affect brain development and
the nervous system. In Ghana, China and India, workers, many of
them children, may be substantially exposed to these hazardous
How does it get to Ghana?
Containers filled with old and often broken computers, monitors
and TVs - from brands including
Philips, Canon, Dell, Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony - arrive
in Ghana from Germany, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands under
the false label of "second-hand goods". Exporting e-waste from
Europe is illegal but exporting old electronics for 'reuse' allows
unscrupulous traders to profit from dumping old electronics in
Ghana. The majority of the containers' contents end up in Ghana's
scrap yards to be crushed and burned by unprotected workers. Some traders report that to get a shipping
container with a few working computers they must accept broken junk
like old screens in the same container from exporters in developed
What's the solution?
While working computers and mobile phones can have a new lease
of life in some African countries, they create pollution when
thrown away due to the high levels of toxic chemicals they contain.
This is why we are
pressuring the biggest electronic companies to phase out toxic
chemicals and introduce global recycling schemes. Both of these
steps are vital to tackle the growing tide of toxic e-waste.
Some companies are making progress towards taking responsibility
for the entire lifecycle of their products. However,
Sharp stand out for refusing to accept that they are
responsible for recycling their old products. The stance of these
powerful multinationals is ensuring there will always be a digital
divide that they prefer remains hidden, a dangerous divide with
unprotected workers in developing countries left with the toxic
Behind the story
Mid-2008 a Greenpeace team including campaigner
Kim Schoppink and photographer Kate Davison went to Ghana to
document and gather evidence of what really happens to our
View the story
You can keep the pressure up by writing to the CEO's of the top computer firms to challenge them to produce a greener computer.