Computer waste from the School District of Philadelphia is polluting the urban fringes of Ghana.
But then, the computer, depicted above and tagged for having come from the district as seen in an explosive PBS Frontline report on e-waste, is just a small part of the hundreds of millions of tons that flood the West African country.
The rapid transfer of technology has developed a shady, poorly regulated electronic waste recycling industry, Frontline reports, sending computer goods to developing nations, often with easy port access. When old technologies from Western nations, like the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, are “recycled,” they increasingly are finding their way to places like Ghana’s Agbogbloshie, which Frontline reports has become one of the world’s largest digital dumping grounds.
Often, the report suggests, sensitive information remains on hard drives, which is a particular issue when the materials find their way to Ghana, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as one of the top sources of cyber crime in the world.
An email to School District officials was not immediately returned for comment.
The report sent reporters undercover to a West Coast e-waste facility where they were assured their materials would be disposed of safely and locally. In their research, they found, instead, their recycled technologies ended up in a pile in a Hong Kong port.
The report suggests that companies label the e-waste they transport as donated materials, evading additional costs and oversight. As little as 50 percent of those shipments are able to be sold, a Ghanaian e-waste dealer interviewed by Frontline said, likely lessening any impact outdated Western technologies may have in lessening the digital divide.
The rest piles up, where, in the Ghanaian example, children burn the plastics to salvage and sell the copper and other metals. Until then, waste, like Philadelphia school district computers clog the waterways and lives of those in developing nations.
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