E-waste produced in the North appears in dumps in the South. Although the Basel convention renders illegal this trade, the fact that it’s cheaper to sell it than to recycle is what drives its economics.
The case of Ghana can be paradigmatic: some Ghanaian in the North buy enough electronics as to set up a container. Then, the container is sent to some familiar in Ghana. It’s labelled as “second hand electronics”, which is legal to export. But there’s no capacity whatsoever in customs to check if every device inside a container is working or not.
Once in Ghana, around 60% of the electronics are sold as second-hand goods, other 20% are refurbished, and the last 20% is waste, and it’s taken to the dumps. In the dumps, scavengers hunt the electronics and dismantle them, reselling the valuable parts, mainly the metals.
- Whatever is not sold is dumped, causing a great deal of pollution.
- Another source of pollution and damage for the health is the burning of cables to extract copper.
- A third source of pollution in some countries comes from the mismanagement of heavy metals present in the e-waste.