European Toxic Waste Dumped in Africa
Originally from the Party for Socialism and Liberation
Imperialists turn oppressed countries into dumpster
In one of capitalism’s latest crimes against the people of Africa, dealers from Europe and the United States have been discovered dumping toxic waste from computers in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. The revelation follows an investigation by Greenpeace, Sky News and The Independent.
Once the computers and television sets end up in the African dumps, people break apart the equipment in search of raw materials like copper that can be sold for cash. In this process, African people are being exposed to extremely toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, as well as phthalates, plastic softeners and dioxins that are known to promote cancer.
“Chemicals like lead are very dangerous, especially for children. They affect the brain when it is developing and therefore cause a lower IQ when they grow up,” Greenpeace’s Kim Schoppink says.
According to the United Nations, between 20 and 50 million tons of e-waste are generated around the world each year. Under international law, these computers must be dismantled or safely recycled, not dumped. However, hundreds of thousands of broken or outdated computers and television sets are labeled as “usable second hand” products and sold to dealers.
“We basically managed to track a TV going from the UK allegedly as second-hand equipment to Nigeria,” Iza Kruszewskahe from Greenpeace told the BBC’s Focus on Africa program. Kruszewskahe explained that they put a tracking device in the television to follow it through the recycler and to Nigeria.
One of the places that this toxic “e-waste” ends up is at the Agbobloshie dumpsite in Accra, Ghana, where the chemicals contaminate ground water, surface water, rivers and streams.
Many of the scavengers in the Agbobloshie dump are children and teens. Ibrahim Adams, age 15, was interviewed during the BBC program. He explained that he was looking for copper, which he could sell to raise money for his school fees.
Dumping obsolete computers in Africa instead of recycling them provides a snapshot picture of what is wrong with the capitalist system. In order to increase profit, consumers are urged to constantly update computers and TVs. In addition, products are intentionally designed to break down or become obsolete after a few years, requiring consumers to by new ones.
Manufacturers cut corners by using toxic materials in the manufacturing process. Later, to save more money, the products are dumped in Africa instead of being properly recycled. Meanwhile, the poorest people in Africa—people who must scavenge at a dump to survive—are paying the price through toxic exposure. Why are people so poor in Africa? It is not because continent lacks natural resources; rather, the widespread poverty is a product of centuries of colonialist and imperialist exploitation of the continent.
Exposés such as this one, conducted by Greenpeace, are very useful. E-waste recycling laws came about through the insistence of the environmental movement, not because capitalist governments care.
The cause of this outrage is the capitalist system. The only real solution to the crisis of toxic dumping is economic planning for people’s needs and safety, not for profit. Under socialist planning, we could guarantee that computers and TVs are designed to last a long time. We could address the problems posed by toxic materialsand strictly enforce laws requiring that e-waste be recycled. With the profit motive gone, we could create relationships among nations that are based on solidarity, not exploitation.