Thursday, July 10, 2008

Report on West-African E-Waste

April 2008
e-waste: West Africa continues to drown in the rich world's
obsolete electronics
· Half a million PCs arrive in Lagos every month, only 1 in 4 work
· Millions of tons of e-waste dumped on developing world despite ban
· Monitoring of export process called in to question
An e-waste dump near Accra, Ghana DanWatch
This investigative report was undertaken by DanWatch, with help from the Danish Consumer
Despite new European regulations to prevent electronic waste from being dumped in Africa
and Asia, a hidden flow of end-of-life electronics is threatening to drown West Africa.
Consumers International (CI) is calling for tighter government monitoring and greater
corporate responsibility to prevent the effective dumping of toxic electronics on the developing
April 2008
The call comes after investigations indicate around half a million second-hand computers are
dumped on Nigeria every month.
Although the exporting of used-electronics is legal, local experts say 75 per cent of PCs that
arrive are obsolete and quickly end up on toxic dumps around Lagos.
This is just the tip of the 6.6 millions tons of unaccounted-for e-waste that leaves EU countries
each year.
Watch 'Hidden Flow', the short documentary feature about the investigation, and other CI
videos at
6.6 million tons of e-waste is missing
Every month, hundreds of tons of obsolete computers, televisions and other household
consumer electronics are arriving at ports in Ghana and Nigeria. From here, the second-hand
electronics are distributed via local networks of dealers throughout the country.
According to local Ghanaian and Nigerian sources interviewed by CI's partner organisation,
DanWatch, as few as one in four of the imports are working, while the remaining electronic
waste, also known as e-waste, often ends up on dumpsite fires.
Mountains of PCs, second-hand electronics for sale Danwatch
"Ghana is increasingly becoming a dumping ground for waste from Europe and the US. We
are talking about several tons of obsolete discarded computers, monitors etc. We don't have
the mechanism or the system in place in this country to recycle these wastes. Some of these
items come in under the guise of donations, but when you examine the items they don't
work," said Mike Anane, Director of the League of Environmental Journalists in Ghana.
The arrival of flat-screen televisions and TFT-monitors on consumer markets in the USA and
in Europe has set off a flood of old CRT-television sets spilling into Africa.
In Accra and in Lagos, the capitals of Ghana and Nigeria, the change in European consumer
habits is clearly visible as old-fashioned CRT-television sets are lined up along the streets by
their thousands.
April 2008
Each year, European consumers are producing 8.7 million tons of e-waste. Despite the Basel
Ban Amendment under the Basel Convention, which forbids the export of e-waste from
developed to developing countries, only 25 per cent of this e-waste is recycled. Approximately
6,6 million tons is unaccounted for - and a significant part of this is dumped in countries
outside the rich world.
Local experts, politicians and campaigners fear the enormous influx of obsolete electronics is
posing a serious long term threat to the environment and to human health.
In West Africa, refuse is often disposed of in fires. It is not unusual that waste collectors will
destroy the cathode ray tubes, and burn the wires and circuit boards inside, to get to the
copper wires and other metals, which can be resold.
However, the costs to the environment and to human health are too high, says Professor
Oladele Osibanjo, Director at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa.
"We have about half a million computers, used computers, coming into the Lagos port every
month, and only 25 per cent of these are working. 75 per cent is junk. The volume is so large,
that the people who trade it, just burn it like ordinary refuse. Our studies have shown that the
levels of metals in this waste are far beyond the threshold limits set by Europe."
Unwitting contributors
As part of investigations in West Africa, DanWatch visited dumpsites, where computers from
institutions such as Westminster City Council and The World Bank were piled up together with
computers from numerous European, American and Asian companies in literally mountains of
e-waste dump sites in Nigeria and Ghana DanWatch
At one site on the outskirts of Accra, clouds of black smoke rose from several fires, as boys,
some as young as ten years old, ignored the toxic fumes to get to the precious metal scraps
beneath the melting e-waste:
"The lead, the mercury and all the other toxins bio-accumulate. That is to say, they stay in the
food chain. The people that break open these CRT-monitors tell me that they suffer from
nausea, headaches and chest- and respiratory problems. As a result of breaking these things
April 2008
and burning the wires they inhale a lot of fumes. Sometimes you even find children breaking
these cathode ray tubes apart just to get the wires and other metals to sell," said Mike Anane.
Exporters are able to ship e-waste by exploiting a loophole in European legislation which
allows 'end-of-life' electronic goods to be exported as working products. Even NGO's are
sometimes unwillingly involved in the trade, when large quantities of mobile phones and
computers are donated to help schools and institutions.
In one case, a UK-based organisation offered to donate 10,000 computers to a Nigerian
NGO. However, only 2,000 of the computers proved to be functioning: "This is why we believe
there is a need for tighter regulation in the EU and USA," said Professor Oladele Osibanjo of
the Basel Regional Centre.
"The adverse effects override the potential gain. We are being made a dumping ground for
electronic waste under the guise of bridging the divide and trying to make the poor have
access to ICT," he said.
Professor Osibanjo at the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa calls for
urgent measures to stem the tide of obsolete electronics flowing into Africa: "I think that
countries within the EU and other developed countries have to put in place a mechanism
whereby only tested and certified computers that can actually offer some useful life are
allowed to come in here."
The hidden flow of e-waste from Europe to Africa mounts by the day. Unless EU countries
enforce regulations that are set aside in the Basel Convention, the environmental pollution
from toxic dump sites in Ghana and Nigeria will simply continue to grow.
What can be done?
Toxic electronic dumping on the developing world is outlawed in countries signed up to the
Basel Ban. As a first step Consumers International calls on non-signatories such as Australia,
Canada and the US to ratify the Basel convention and implement it in national legislation.
However, the 6.6million tons of e-waste from the EU that cannot be accounted for appears to
be ending up in places like Ghana and Nigeria. Much of this waste is coming in to these
countries under the guise of legitimate used-computer donations, which bypasses the Basel
It is clear that exporting countries need tougher monitoring to ensure donated electronic
goods are in meaningful working order. Obsolete electrical equipment should be disposed or
recycled in the country of origin using environmentally sustainable methods.
Electronic manufacturers and retailers also have a responsibility to stop using hazardous
material in the production of electronic equipment. In many cases, safer alternatives currently
exist and these should be actively sourced.
April 2008
Furthermore, consumers should not be expected to bear the cost of recycling old electrical
goods. Manufacturers should take full life cycle responsibility for their products and, once they
reach the end of their useful life, take their goods back for re-use, safe recycling or disposal.
Consumers should be able to trust manufactures and government legislation to ensure that,
when they do the right thing and hand in used electronic equipment, it is not dumped in the
developing world.
Research and fieldwork for this report was carried out by DanWatch. DanWatch is a corporate
watchdog working to document the exploitation of labour, environment and natural resources in
developing nations hosting western workplaces, investments, trade and production. The
organisation is co-founded and co-funded by the Danish Consumer Council.
DanWatch is currently looking for donors, who would be interested in supporting their
work on this issue. For more information, please contact editor Benjamin Holst on +45
31771100 or
Consumers International (CI) is the only independent global campaigning voice for consumers.
With over 220 member organisations in 115 countries, we are building a powerful international
consumer movement to help protect and empower consumers everywhere.
Consumers International is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, registered in England
(reg no. 4337856)
Ó Consumers International

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