20 August 2008

Africa: Greenpeace Raises Alarm Over Rising E-Waste in Continent

Lagos — As e-waste continue to pose health problem to the international communities, especially the third world countries, Greenpeace has called on the world's electronics companies to eliminate hazardous chemicals from their products, saying toxic waste from wealthy nations' gadgets ends up being dumped in poor countries despite laws prohibiting it.

The environmental watchdog made the appeal in a new report on the electronic waste trade, which it said was spreading from Asia to West Africa - particularly Ghana, where discarded TVs and computers that contain toxic materials are being dismantled by children as young as 5.

"Unless companies eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their electronic products and take responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products, this poisonous dumping will continue," said Martin Hojsik, a Greenpeace campaigner. "Electronics companies must not allow their products to end up poisoning the poor around the world."

Many of the old computers, monitors and television sets that end up in Ghana come from the European Union, despite laws there prohibiting the export of such hazardous materials, Greenpeace said. In particular, the report cited shipments from Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands - as well as Korea.

The materials are exported as "second hand goods" and purportedly meant to be reusable. But the report, citing a EU official, said most of these goods imported into Africa are broken and cannot be used again.

In Ghana, the discarded waste is dismantled at scrap yards, where it is crushed or burned to separate plastics from more valuable metals like aluminum or copper, a process that pollutes the environment and exposes workers to toxic fumes.

A Greenpeace team visited two main waste sites in Ghana - one in the capital and another in the smaller city of Korforidua. Soil samples analyzed at Britain's University of Exeter contained phthalates, which are suspected of causing reproductive problems, and lead. The report noted that while the EU officially prohibits such exports, the United States does not.

Leading computer makers, including Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Inc., have launched or expanded recycling programs in recent years. But overall, environmental groups and government regulators have said that a small percentage of electronics are actually being submitted for recycling.

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