Video: Ghana a Literal 'Digital Dumping Ground'

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A new video from PBS Frontline explores a small village in Ghana, which is the one of the world’s largest e-waste dumping grounds.

Led by correspondent Peter Klein and a group of graduate students from the University of British Columbia, the expedition shows improperly disposed electronics, such as computers and televisions, with labels from the U.S.

This dump site in Agbogbloshie, Ghana is an example of improper e-waste disposal. Photo: Hahn

This dump site in Agbogbloshie, Ghana is an example of improper e-waste disposal. Photo: Hahn

Along the banks of Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth, 13-year-old Alex is the group’s guide as he shows his home in a small shanty town buried in a sea of e-waste. Smoke and out-dated electronics serves as the setting for this teen’s life.

The locals call the area “Sodom and Gomorrah,” as it has become an e-waste graveyard, with electronics from the U.S. and the U.K., among other countries.

How Has It Gotten This Far?

According to the video, exporters got around laws by labeling the electronics as “donations,” and Ghanaians welcomed what they thought were donations to “bridge the digital divide.”

But the problem isn’t thousands of miles away. It’s also affecting Americans in a big way: identity theft.

After the e-waste has been separated and unusable material is discarded, salvageable hard drives are sold on the streets. The problem is that most of the hard drives still contain personal information. Off-camera, some Ghanaians admit to criminals combing through these hard drives, recovering information such as credit card numbers, account numbers and personal files.

This is a major problem in Ghana, which the U.S. State Department lists as one of the top sources of cyber crime in the world.

But the U.S. is responding to the e-waste dumping problem. A proposed bill could prohibit exports of certain types of electronics materials meant for recycling. However, some organizations are criticizing the bill for “loopholes,” citing that many recyclers will take advantage of the bill as it doesn’t ban sending waste overseas.

Currently, there are no laws in the U.S. prohibiting dumping overseas.

Part 1 – Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground

Part 2 – Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground

This video has been republished on YouTube and does not express the views or opinions of Earth911. Check out PBS Frontline for original video.

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  1. Stories such as these about e-waste in the developing world bring to light the impact that globalization is having. We need to do our part in the U.S. to research where we dispose of our e-waste so it does not end up in places such as Ghana, where the environmental degradation and the health impacts (especially on children) occur with little consequence. Great videos.

  2. This insidious activity in dealing with our American waste is showing severe consequences in our digital security and backlash from overseas. And we wonder why we are so hated by the informed inhabitants of less fortunate countries around the world. Our example of “democracy” to these people only enforces the idea as “freedom to exploit the unfortunate and the disadvantaged.” I am ashamed.

  3. Pingback: Ghana, an E-Waste Graveyard

  4. Wait, this is half the story. As a former state recycling director, former Peace Corps volunteer, MBA and BA in International Relations, I’m increasingly alarmed at the one-sidedness of this coverage. The containerloads being unloaded in the Greenpeace Ghana films clearly show 80% working and repairable equipment, which coincides with A) the only way to afford shipping costs, and B) the relative lack of ewaste in the burning pictures as compared to the container pictures. WR3A analysis is that 30% of the containers in Africa are obsolete and non-repairable. This calls for reform, not hysteria. Fair Trade Coffee, not a coffee boycott. Find some Youtube videos (search “WR3A” or “Fair Trade Recycling” which make intellectual sense. I mean, thank you and please still show the ones above, “toxics along for the ride” is unacceptable. But hyping a poster child is 1970s environmentalism.

  5. It is very clear that Ghana as a country does not have a working environmental sanitation focus which could help contol the influx of these e-waste materials. All the attention is on creating jobs and not the negative impact of such materials. Very old computers and other electronic gadgets are imported without a thought of how to dispose off the material after usage.

  6. In light of this video, I am proud to be a part of the solution instead of the problem.

    The company I work for (Acorn Computer Recycling CIC) in the United Kingdom provides a local service for collection and recycling of electronic products.
    We are a non-profit “Comunity Interest Company” which relies on public donations.
    We intercept the electronic waste before any unorthodox and illegitimate companies can cause more problems by disposing of waste overseas.
    We refurbish working equipment and dismantle/recycle non-functional products and dispose of them according to the WEEE directive.

    We will be referring to the Digital Dumping Ground video from time to time to bring awareness of the situation to as many people as possible and we hope to make a change to this world for the better.

    The children of Ghana deserve so much more.

  7. Dumping of equipment in this was is illegal in the EU, but I am sure some of it is done anyway in an attempt to bypass the processing/dumping costs in the UK. If equipment is completely beyond repair and refurbishment it should be sent on to an Approved, Authorised Treatement Facility (AATF).

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