Technology tax Mountains of e-waste


Killer sustenance
Technology is one of the blessings of the mind that made man adapt these innovations to his necessities and well-being, but its price is high, not only when acquiring it, but when disposing of it to become waste that accumulates every day. Therefore, developed countries found legal formulas behind which scrap is hidden to reach landfills in Africa on the pretext that it is still usable .

Bern - The Agbogbloshie landfill is located on the outskirts of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, and a large part of the world's electrical and electronic waste is shipped there to its final resting place. Or even plastics that others haven't caught up with to strip them of everything of value.

The extraction process often involves melting the outer shells of microwave ovens and clothes dryers, a process that releases clouds of toxic smoke and noxious fumes into the surroundings.

And the haters forget, or forget, that the treasure they dig out today contains a poison that may kill them tomorrow.

Before this e-waste ended up in smoke and ash at the Agbogbloshie landfill, it was once owned by proud families in Europe and the United States.

In Ghana, the volume of imports of electrical and electronic goods is 215,000 tons, and it is estimated that about 15 percent of these imports are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment or electronic waste, which includes electrical appliances such as washing machines and microwaves, and electronic gadgets such as computers and smart phones.


Technology tax Mountains of e-waste  Killer sustenance Technology is one of the blessings of the mind that made man adapt these innovations to his necessities and well-being, but its price is high, not only when acquiring it, but when disposing of it to become waste that accumulates every day. Therefore, developed countries found legal formulas behind which scrap is hidden to reach landfills in Africa on the pretext that it is still usable .  Bern - The Agbogbloshie landfill is located on the outskirts of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, and a large part of the world's electrical and electronic waste is shipped there to its final resting place. Or even plastics that others haven't caught up with to strip them of everything of value.  The extraction process often involves melting the outer shells of microwave ovens and clothes dryers, a process that releases clouds of toxic smoke and noxious fumes into the surroundings.  And the haters forget, or forget, that the treasure they dig out today contains a poison that may kill them tomorrow.  Before this e-waste ended up in smoke and ash at the Agbogbloshie landfill, it was once owned by proud families in Europe and the United States.  In Ghana, the volume of imports of electrical and electronic goods is 215,000 tons, and it is estimated that about 15 percent of these imports are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment or electronic waste, which includes electrical appliances such as washing machines and microwaves, and electronic gadgets such as computers and smart phones.  These wastes are not intended for repair or regeneration, however, they may contain precious metals that cannot be extracted as long as WEEE does not contain hazardous materials.  The remaining 85 percent of goods imported into Ghana are not classified as electronic waste, but used electrical and electronic equipment such as old-fashioned smartphones or phones with broken screens. Because of the high cost of repairing broken goods or recycling obsolete goods, the option of shipping them to the farthest corners of the world seems attractive.  Although it appears in the import documents that the supposed purpose of these imports is repair and resale as second-hand goods at reasonable prices in the countries of destination, in practice most of them are stripped of valuable components and minerals and dumped in Agbogbloshie for the poorest of the poor to be sifted and burned.  On the dangers of e-waste, Marie-Noel Bruni-Dressy, lead author of a report published last year by the World Health Organization entitled “Children and Digital Landfills,” explains that “each child who eats just one egg from Agbogbloshie will absorb an amount of chlorinated dioxins equal to 220 times the daily maximum allowed by the European Food Safety Authority.  Almost 33 years have passed since an agreement was adopted in the city of Basel (northwest Switzerland) to prevent this kind of problem. The Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention) was ratified on March 22, 1989 and entered into force on May 5, 1992.  Three decades later, Switzerland and Ghana put forward a bilateral proposal aimed at filling in some loopholes in the original text of the agreement.  In July, member states will consider a resolution imposing stricter restrictions on countries that dump e-waste, even those free of hazardous materials.  The Basel Convention was the result of efforts to impose stricter environmental regulations on the disposal of hazardous waste in Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to a shift in hazardous waste dumping to Eastern European countries and further afield.  One of the major initiatives to regulate this toxic trade was a joint Swiss-Hungarian proposal submitted by the two countries to the United Nations Environment Program in 1987 with the aim of drafting an international agreement regulating the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.  Unlike the situation today, electronic and electrical waste was not a big problem at the time. According to the Global Observatory of Electronic Waste, the rate of e-waste generated by one person rose in 2019 to about 7.3 kg (compared to about 5.8 kg in 2014). At this rate, the total is 53.6 million tons, and is expected to rise to 74.7 million tons by the end of this decade. Adding to the concern, no one knows where the majority of this waste ends up.  According to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor report, only 17.4 percent of e-waste left by all countries of the world is collected and treated in a manner that respects the integrity of the environment, which means that the fate of the vast majority (82.6 percent) is undocumented.  Europe exports about 1.3 million tons of e-waste annually, of which illegal exports make up about 30 percent A 2009 investigation by Greenpeace found that e-waste from countries such as the United States, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands ended up in landfills in Ghana.  It is possible that it was exported to Ghana as used equipment or non-hazardous waste, which is legal, but it is also possible that it was illegally exported.  The “Combating Illicit Trade in Electrical and Electronic Equipment” project, which aims to provide the European Commission, law enforcement authorities and customs officials with information to help combat the illicit traffic of e-waste to and from Europe, found that Europe exports about 1.3 million tons of e-waste each year. And illegal exports make up about 30 percent of them.  Although the Basel Convention regulates the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes, at present only electronic waste classified as hazardous and carried abroad is subject to examination. E-waste that is not considered hazardous does not require any notification. This is likely to create a loophole that allows e-waste to be dumped in developing countries that may not have the capacity to recycle it in an environmentally sound manner.  To reduce the possibility of this happening, Switzerland and Ghana put forward a proposal in 2020 that seeks to make prior approval from the destination country mandatory even if e-waste is classified as non-hazardous.  This proposal will be put up for discussion next July during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, and will be adopted if it is approved by member countries.  “If there are countries that want to increase control over the flow of e-waste, our proposal will ensure that those countries are better informed and respond more effectively,” said Felix Fertelli, head of global affairs at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment who co-authored the proposal. It is much more difficult to take response measures when e-waste arrives at the port than at the pre-export stage.”  Comments received from Member States during the consultation period indicate that most support the Swiss-Ghanaian proposal on e-waste, but other countries have expressed concern that this step may have unintended consequences for the legitimate export of electrical and electronic equipment used for repair and overhaul purposes.  Zimbabwe reported that “many developing countries import used electrical products (radio, television, computers, etc.). If this practice is legal and helps support the local economy, it is necessary to distinguish between imports of scrap and waste and what is imported for reuse.”  This concern has also been echoed among groups in the scrap and recycling industry, including the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which claims that 20 percent of the institute's member companies working in electronics collect used devices and transport them to another country for either refurbishment. or repaired.  A decision is needed that imposes stricter restrictions on countries that dump e-waste, even those that are free of hazardous materials  The United States was the only member country that had not ratified the Basel Convention. Thus, it has the freedom to trade waste that is not covered by the agreement with member states. In contrast, other member countries cannot import waste prohibited by the Convention from the United States.  “There is a very wide market for used electronic devices of all kinds: phones, computers, copiers and so on,” explains Adina Renee Adler, Vice President of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. If this proposal is approved, 20 percent of the business in these markets will be subject to the controls of the Basel Convention, and they will have to seek permission from the government of the destination country before they can proceed with commercial procedures.”  According to Adler, governments are already overburdened with implementing existing waste transport regulations, and notification requests continue to pile up. Adler warned that the administrative burden of adding non-hazardous e-waste to the list is as close as possible to banning its trade.  “Yes, it is an extra effort, but it is important to achieve sustainable trade,” Fertley comments.  According to Fertli, the Swiss-Ghana proposal will increase the amount of resources that can be reclaimed, enabling destination countries to refuse importing low-quality e-waste and promoting health conditions for recyclers, including those in the informal sector.   Another group claims that the proposal to require prior approval for the export of non-hazardous e-waste is not considered an adequate measure, as the non-governmental network Basel Action Network considers that “this idea fails to fill the real gap that causes a lot of exploitative abuse in developing countries, i.e. the export of electronic equipment unusable, whether hazardous or not, as not waste.”  And that the so-called “repairable” loophole allows traders to export unusable electrical and electronic equipment claiming that it is not waste because there is an intention to repair it in the country of destination. This allows them to completely evade the restrictions imposed by the Basel Convention.  The Basel Action Network adds that, “All too often, claims are proven incorrect and materials are simply suppressed or found beyond repair.”  The European Union has also submitted a proposal calling for the creation of a new category of waste called “wastes for purposes of preparing for reuse”. This category includes all materials that end up in garbage collection centers in developed countries and are then exported for the purpose of refurbishment or repair for reuse in destination countries. In theory, the creation of this category will lead to an expansion of the types of used products and equipment that are classified as waste, bringing them under the scope of the Basel Convention.  Thumbnail The EU proposal takes a slightly different path compared to the Swiss-Ghana proposal, as it focuses on the possibility of reuse. However, some Member States may consider it to be beyond reasonable limits. In any case, amendments to the Agreement require approval by a three-fourths majority vote of Member States.  Fertelli stresses that "destination countries understand the effects of e-waste and want to develop solutions for them," adding, "However, it is a sensitive issue because it affects economic interests and relevant jobs."  The economic value of e-waste is estimated at $62.5 billion annually, which is greater than the gross domestic product of 123 countries. For information, the amount of gold extracted from a ton of smartphones is greater than that extracted from a ton of gold ore. The number of workers in the informal e-waste sector is unknown, but the International Labor Organization estimates it to be around 690,000 in China and up to 100,000 in Nigeria. The EU proposal and the Swiss-Ghanian proposal will be up for discussion in July. Their success will depend on the approval of e-waste importing countries in poorer parts of the world.  Fertley is optimistic. “Our proposal is not an ideal solution, and it will not address all e-waste issues. However, it is an additional but important step in the right direction towards a circular economy, and it has a chance of gaining approval.”


These wastes are not intended for repair or regeneration, however, they may contain precious metals that cannot be extracted as long as WEEE does not contain hazardous materials.

The remaining 85 percent of goods imported into Ghana are not classified as electronic waste, but used electrical and electronic equipment such as old-fashioned smartphones or phones with broken screens. Because of the high cost of repairing broken goods or recycling obsolete goods, the option of shipping them to the farthest corners of the world seems attractive.

Although it appears in the import documents that the supposed purpose of these imports is repair and resale as second-hand goods at reasonable prices in the countries of destination, in practice most of them are stripped of valuable components and minerals and dumped in Agbogbloshie for the poorest of the poor to be sifted and burned.

On the dangers of e-waste, Marie-Noel Bruni-Dressy, lead author of a report published last year by the World Health Organization entitled “Children and Digital Landfills,” explains that “each child who eats just one egg from Agbogbloshie will absorb an amount of chlorinated dioxins equal to 220 times the daily maximum allowed by the European Food Safety Authority.

Almost 33 years have passed since an agreement was adopted in the city of Basel (northwest Switzerland) to prevent this kind of problem. The Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (Basel Convention) was ratified on March 22, 1989 and entered into force on May 5, 1992.

Three decades later, Switzerland and Ghana put forward a bilateral proposal aimed at filling in some loopholes in the original text of the agreement.

In July, member states will consider a resolution imposing stricter restrictions on countries that dump e-waste, even those free of hazardous materials.

The Basel Convention was the result of efforts to impose stricter environmental regulations on the disposal of hazardous waste in Western Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, which led to a shift in hazardous waste dumping to Eastern European countries and further afield.

One of the major initiatives to regulate this toxic trade was a joint Swiss-Hungarian proposal submitted by the two countries to the United Nations Environment Program in 1987 with the aim of drafting an international agreement regulating the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.

Unlike the situation today, electronic and electrical waste was not a big problem at the time. According to the Global Observatory of Electronic Waste, the rate of e-waste generated by one person rose in 2019 to about 7.3 kg (compared to about 5.8 kg in 2014). At this rate, the total is 53.6 million tons, and is expected to rise to 74.7 million tons by the end of this decade. Adding to the concern, no one knows where the majority of this waste ends up.

According to the 2020 Global E-waste Monitor report, only 17.4 percent of e-waste left by all countries of the world is collected and treated in a manner that respects the integrity of the environment, which means that the fate of the vast majority (82.6 percent) is undocumented.

Europe exports about 1.3 million tons of e-waste annually, of which illegal exports make up about 30 percent

A 2009 investigation by Greenpeace found that e-waste from countries such as the United States, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands ended up in landfills in Ghana.

It is possible that it was exported to Ghana as used equipment or non-hazardous waste, which is legal, but it is also possible that it was illegally exported.

The “Combating Illicit Trade in Electrical and Electronic Equipment” project, which aims to provide the European Commission, law enforcement authorities and customs officials with information to help combat the illicit traffic of e-waste to and from Europe, found that Europe exports about 1.3 million tons of e-waste each year. And illegal exports make up about 30 percent of them.

Although the Basel Convention regulates the transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes, at present only electronic waste classified as hazardous and carried abroad is subject to examination. E-waste that is not considered hazardous does not require any notification. This is likely to create a loophole that allows e-waste to be dumped in developing countries that may not have the capacity to recycle it in an environmentally sound manner.

To reduce the possibility of this happening, Switzerland and Ghana put forward a proposal in 2020 that seeks to make prior approval from the destination country mandatory even if e-waste is classified as non-hazardous.

This proposal will be put up for discussion next July during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, and will be adopted if it is approved by member countries.

“If there are countries that want to increase control over the flow of e-waste, our proposal will ensure that those countries are better informed and respond more effectively,” said Felix Fertelli, head of global affairs at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment who co-authored the proposal. It is much more difficult to take response measures when e-waste arrives at the port than at the pre-export stage.”

Comments received from Member States during the consultation period indicate that most support the Swiss-Ghanaian proposal on e-waste, but other countries have expressed concern that this step may have unintended consequences for the legitimate export of electrical and electronic equipment used for repair and overhaul purposes.

Zimbabwe reported that “many developing countries import used electrical products (radio, television, computers, etc.). If this practice is legal and helps support the local economy, it is necessary to distinguish between imports of scrap and waste and what is imported for reuse.”

This concern has also been echoed among groups in the scrap and recycling industry, including the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, which claims that 20 percent of the institute's member companies working in electronics collect used devices and transport them to another country for either refurbishment. or repaired.

A decision is needed that imposes stricter restrictions on countries that dump e-waste, even those that are free of hazardous materials

The United States was the only member country that had not ratified the Basel Convention. Thus, it has the freedom to trade waste that is not covered by the agreement with member states. In contrast, other member countries cannot import waste prohibited by the Convention from the United States.

“There is a very wide market for used electronic devices of all kinds: phones, computers, copiers and so on,” explains Adina Renee Adler, Vice President of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. If this proposal is approved, 20 percent of the business in these markets will be subject to the controls of the Basel Convention, and they will have to seek permission from the government of the destination country before they can proceed with commercial procedures.”

According to Adler, governments are already overburdened with implementing existing waste transport regulations, and notification requests continue to pile up. Adler warned that the administrative burden of adding non-hazardous e-waste to the list is as close as possible to banning its trade.

“Yes, it is an extra effort, but it is important to achieve sustainable trade,” Fertley comments.

According to Fertli, the Swiss-Ghana proposal will increase the amount of resources that can be reclaimed, enabling destination countries to refuse importing low-quality e-waste and promoting health conditions for recyclers, including those in the informal sector.

Another group claims that the proposal to require prior approval for the export of non-hazardous e-waste is not considered an adequate measure, as the non-governmental network Basel Action Network considers that “this idea fails to fill the real gap that causes a lot of exploitative abuse in developing countries, i.e. the export of electronic equipment unusable, whether hazardous or not, as not waste.”

And that the so-called “repairable” loophole allows traders to export unusable electrical and electronic equipment claiming that it is not waste because there is an intention to repair it in the country of destination. This allows them to completely evade the restrictions imposed by the Basel Convention.

The Basel Action Network adds that, “All too often, claims are proven incorrect and materials are simply suppressed or found beyond repair.”

The European Union has also submitted a proposal calling for the creation of a new category of waste called “wastes for purposes of preparing for reuse”. This category includes all materials that end up in garbage collection centers in developed countries and are then exported for the purpose of refurbishment or repair for reuse in destination countries. In theory, the creation of this category will lead to an expansion of the types of used products and equipment that are classified as waste, bringing them under the scope of the Basel Convention.

Thumbnail
The EU proposal takes a slightly different path compared to the Swiss-Ghana proposal, as it focuses on the possibility of reuse. However, some Member States may consider it to be beyond reasonable limits. In any case, amendments to the Agreement require approval by a three-fourths majority vote of Member States.

Fertelli stresses that "destination countries understand the effects of e-waste and want to develop solutions for them," adding, "However, it is a sensitive issue because it affects economic interests and relevant jobs."

The economic value of e-waste is estimated at $62.5 billion annually, which is greater than the gross domestic product of 123 countries. For information, the amount of gold extracted from a ton of smartphones is greater than that extracted from a ton of gold ore. The number of workers in the informal e-waste sector is unknown, but the International Labor Organization estimates it to be around 690,000 in China and up to 100,000 in Nigeria. The EU proposal and the Swiss-Ghanian proposal will be up for discussion in July. Their success will depend on the approval of e-waste importing countries in poorer parts of the world.

Fertley is optimistic. “Our proposal is not an ideal solution, and it will not address all e-waste issues. However, it is an additional but important step in the right direction towards a circular economy, and it has a chance of gaining approval.”
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