On the outskirts of Ghana's biggest city sits a smoldering wasteland, a slum carved into the banks of the Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth. The locals call it Sodom and Gomorrah.
Correspondent Peter Klein and a group of graduate journalism students from the University of British Columbia have come here as part of a global investigation -- to track a shadowy industry that's causing big problems here and around the world.
Their guide is a 13-year-old boy named Alex. He shows them his home, a small room in a mass of shanty dwellings, and offers to take them across a dead river to a notorious area called Agbogbloshie.
Agbogbloshie has become one of the world's digital dumping grounds, where the West's electronic waste, or e-waste, piles up -- hundreds of millions of tons of it each year.
The team meets with Mike Anane, a local journalist who has been writing about the boys at this e-waste dump.
“Life is really difficult; they eat here, surrounded by e-waste,” Anane tells them. “They basically are here to earn a living. But you can imagine the health implications.”
Some of the boys burn old foam on top of computers to melt away the plastic, leaving behind scraps of copper and iron they can collect to sell. The younger boys use magnets from old speakers to gather up the smaller pieces left behind at the burn site.
Anane says he used to play soccer here as a kid, when it was pristine wetland. Since then, he's become one of the country's leading environmental journalists.
“I'm trying to get some ownership labels,” Anane tells reporters. “I'm collecting them because you need them as evidence. You need to tell the world where these things are coming from. You have to prove it. Now, just look,” he says, pointing to an old computer with the label: “School District of Philadelphia.”
When containers of old computers first began arriving in West Africa a few years ago, Ghanaians welcomed what they thought were donations to help bridge the digital divide. But soon exporters learned to exploit the loopholes by labeling junk computers "donations," leaving men like Godson to sort it out.
Godson, one of the e-waste dealers who have set up shop close to the port, shows the contents of the container he has bought.
“Some are from Germany and the U.K., and also from America,” he says, when asked where the equipment has come from. He sorts through them looking for working electronics that can be sold. He says that maybe 50 percent of the shipment is junk and the rest he will be able to salvage in some way.
After it’s sorted, a lot of the contents of the container will still be dumped at the burn site outside of town.
Hard drives that can be salvaged are displayed at open-air markets. Off camera, Ghanaians admit that organized criminals sometimes comb through these drives for personal information to use in scams.
As part of the investigation, one of the students buys a number of hard drives to see what is on them, secretly filming the transaction to avoid the seller's suspicions.
The drives are purchased for the equivalent of US$35.
The students take the hard drives to Regent University in the Ghanaian capital and ask computer scientist Enoch Kwesi Messiah to help read what is on them.
Within minutes, he is scrolling through intimate details of people's lives, files left behind by the hard drives' original owners.
There is private financial data, too: credit card numbers, account information, records of online transactions the original owners may not have realized were even there.
“ I can get your bank numbers and I retrieve all your money from your accounts,” Messiah says. “If ever somebody gets your hard drive, he can get every information about you from the drive, no matter where it is hidden.”
That's particularly a problem in a place like Ghana, which is listed by the U.S. State Department as one of the top sources of cyber crime in the world. And it's not just individuals who are exposed. One of the drives the team has purchased contains a $22 million government contract.
It turns out the drive came from Northrop Grumman, one of America's largest military contractors. And it contains details about sensitive, multi-million dollar U.S. government contracts. They also find contracts with the defense intelligence agency, NASA, even Homeland Security.
When the drives’ data are shown to James Durie, who works on data security for the FBI, he's particularly concerned about the potential breach at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
“The government contracting process is supposed to be confidential. If I know how you're hiring the people for security related job, TSA air marshals, then I can prepare a person to fit that model and get my guy in,” Durie says. “Once I have my guy in, you have no security.”
Northrop Grumman refused to speak to FRONTLINE/World on camera. But they did issue a statement saying the potential security threat was disconcerting, and they pledged to investigate.
Right now there are no tough U.S. laws regulating the disposal of e-waste, leaving companies and consumers to sort out the claims of recyclers on their own.
Following the recycling process as a consumer would, students drop off some e-waste at a facility on America’s West Coast. They are wearing a hidden camera and are assured that what they are bringing in will be disposed of safely and locally.
One worker at the facility tells them: “What they literally do is dump it into a blast furnace and it burns it all up; and all they get out of it is a bunch of ash and some of the precious metal. Everything else gets consumed, burnt. And that's an actual fact.”
The team notes the container numbers leaving the facility and, using public records, traces where they're sent. A few weeks later, their reporting takes them to the port of Hong Kong.
Just a few miles from Hong Kong’s port, hidden behind eight-foot-high corrugated walls, are mountains of computer monitors, printer cartridges from Georgia, relics of old video arcades…
In China, e-waste has become big business.
The southern Chinese city of Guiyu has been completely built around the e-waste trade. Miles and miles of nothing but old electronics.
Jim Puckett is an environmental activist credited with discovering this harmful e-waste route to China. He has accompanied the team to Guiyu, a place he first visited eight years ago, and calls it the dirty little secret of the hi-tech industry.
Video Puckett shot in 2001 was the first anyone had documented showing Western computers being dumped in Guiyu. He found tens of thousands of people working here in the toxic trade. On this return visit, Puckett says things have gotten worse.
“I was there first in 2001 and it was shocking enough then. It had gone from very bad to really horrific. And what is happening there is rather apocalyptic.”
One of the most disturbing things Puckett points out is happening behind closed doors. Women literally cooking circuit boards to salvage the computer chips, which have trace amounts of gold.
“All these old mother boards and other types of circuit boards are being cooked day in and day out, mostly by women, sitting there, breathing the lead tin solders. It’s just quite devastating,” Puckett says.
To find out who is making money off this hazardous work, the team travels to downtown Hong Kong, home to hundreds of companies that import e-waste into China. No one here will speak to the reporters on camera, so they film surreptitiously.
Puckett and one of our reporters arrange to meet an e-waste broker willing to explain the e-waste trade from the inside.
The man explains how hundreds of thousands of tons of American e-waste makes its way into China, despite laws intended to stop it.
“If we were to send you our material, would our recyclers get in trouble with the Chinese government if they find their material coming into mainland?” Puckett asks the broker.
“I can only say that if they get caught it has nothing to do with you. Because I buy from you, and then I sell to him. He is buying from me; he's not buying from you,” the man explains.
He says that since Hong Kong ships millions of containers to the U.S. and most return empty, it's cheap to load them with e-waste, and too expensive to dispose of the waste safely -- no matter what recyclers claim.
When the reporters ask what sort of due environmental due diligence there is, the man responds:
“I can only say one thing, if you want to do it environmentally, you have to pay. They have to invest in machinery, labor, everything. It isn’t worth it to pay so much money.”
On the last trip of the assignment, the team heads to India. No longer just a dumping ground, India is now generating its own e-waste at an alarming rate, thanks to a growing middle class with a taste for high tech.
“Last year, we sold more than seven million PCs in India,” says Indian businessman Rohan Gupta. “We generated 330,000 tons of electronic waste within India. So all these are going to comeback to the waste stream sooner or later. It’s a growing industry.”
Gupta is giving a tour of his state-of-the-art facility outside Bangalore.
He is betting on a new Indian law that could force its high tech industry to recycle responsibly and maybe one day put the digital dumps out of business.
At another recycling plant in Bangalore, they are literally trying to spin the waste into gold, refining the scrap in a safe environment and fashioning it into watches and jewelry they market as eco friendly.
Plants like this could become part of a global network of certified e-waste recyclers that Puckett's group is trying to get off the ground. But even Puckett realizes it's an uphill struggle.
“Even if you have a state-of-the-art facility in a country like India, the free market there will send it to the lowest common denominator, to the worst facilities where people are sitting on the streets just picking through it by hand,” he says. “It’s a myth to think that you can just solve the problem immediately with technology alone.”
I'm 17 years old and in the 11th grade i have a project on E-waste. This video is a really hard thing to watch there are innocent
people who are dying and getting hurt because of our reactions, and what we are doing to their homes, and lands. They must not realize how much damage
this is doing just not to their countries but on what it is doing to our ENVIRONMENT. The U.S is not just killing them it is killing our PLANET, killing the animals our TREES and how we breathe. People here in the U.S just need to relize they have to RECYCLE and help ourselves. I do not want to DIE
just because our REACTIONS and how we treat people. I'm not going against our country I'm going aggainst the E-waste dumping. I feel so sorry for the people who are doing the work and trying to make a living with their family's feeding there young children. I feel sorry, instead of doing what we are doing I just want to see a change in things and a change to our ENVIRONMENT. I wish I would have a chance in life to go and visit these places and ask those people on what they think. They should have nice homes, hospitals, cars, clothing, and they shouldn't have polluted WATERS, and RIVERS. They should just have as much as we do, they desserve as much as we do. They help with our E-waste when we and our companies should be the ones handling our own issues.
Well I am finished on what I got to say I just hope that some day we would
change how we are treating the EARTH, our HOME were we all are ONE big happy FAMILY.. =)
Thanks for the opportunity for myself to speak out ad tell others on how I
truly feel about the whole situation.
Written January 13, 2010
Overall I liked the article; however, here we go again. The United States always seems to get the blame for the world's problems. I'll believe it when I see it that Europe and Japan are handling the e-waste problem responsibly. Just because laws are enacted does not mean they're enforced. And for those under developed countries: Their governments strive to keep the masses poor and ignorant while lining their own pockets. I'll bet someone in those government gets a big kickback from those who are importing. There's obviously money to be made in the recycling business, especially when it's corrupt. Clean up the corruption first instead of imposing extra taxes and fees on consumers. And allow honest recyclers the chance to carry out what needs to be done without severe and costly government intervention.
Watched your video on e-waste. I always wondered what happens to all those old computers so now I know will tell everyone I know all
about this problem. I'm sure most people don't know this problem exist, thanks for educating me .
This is crazy I never knew that this could happen to people. It changes my opinion about even having a computer anymore.The stuff they are doing with only a hard drive is disturbing. Can they even do this? Did
they ask permission to get into those?
Very informative documentary! So we are the sacrifice for someone's greed since the consequences will destroy the environment for the next generation of human beings. I do not know of any law induced by government (India) to reduce the pollution without media and public groups immense pressure. The governments should be doing this as part of their duty since Tax is paid by the citizens to safeguard them against such problems and it affects the majority of people. In the name of development we can not afford to give cancer to every people in the country and then develop the medical and insurance industries? We are talking about E-waste, what about poly bags? It is used everywhere in India.
i had to write a letter to Obama about a problem i think he should change... and i wrote about this one. this is really bad.
We think more people need to be made aware of what is happening in these developing nations. As a class, we couldn't believe this black market existed in the world. The more people that learn of what is happening with the digital waste in developed countries, the more likely change can occur.
Countries like the United States, Great Britain, and Germany need to enact legislation, putting regulations in place to ensure our computer waste is disposed of more responsibly.
One thing we can do is incorporate e-waste into international hazardous waste law. And the U.S. can ratify the Basel Convention, since we are currently hanging out with Haiti and Afghanistan as the only three Basel Convention signatories who never ratified it. Consumers can keep demanding better producer responsibility for electronics disposal. The EU's electronics take-back programs are not without problems, but they definitely represent a step in the right direction.
I think it is Bush's fault, no, maybe Clinton, wait a minute, how about we are all to blame!
Electronic waste the greater un-tapped energy source. Most people do not realize for years that plastic the un-seen force, can be better recycled ( Melted ) into small fibers to make better cheaper insulation and fibers fused with other chemicals in process can have many benefits from Recycle. All that small plastic foating in our oceans is a wasted Gold mine in New Plastic fibers Technologies . Wm Andrews Discoverer of H2o from
Cold Relative Vacuum.( Vacuum Relativity ) And Embryonic Atomic Energy.
Thank you so much for making such powerful show to bring us awareness about the dark side of growing technology! If we want our kids to live in future, we'd better starting addressing the impact now! Otherwise, I think the movie "2012" can become reality, even though it's fiction!
Thank you so much for making this show and for bringing awareness to people like us!! If we want this earth to continue its life, we'd better start doing what we can to make it a better place for our kids and people around this world!
Very sensationalist and uninformed. You were saying women were breathing lead fumes from solder. When did they start using lead free
solder on everything? It has been a while.
The files you found were probably old and garbage, not to say more modern stuff doesn't show up: What exactly can you do with CC and bank info. from 2001? The defense dept. files were also probably very uninformative. Nobody, even the FBI guy were seriously worried. He had to come up with a hypothetical situation where the files COULD be a security breach. The bigger problem
is you could see how much of your tax money they wasted.
None of you know ANYTHING about electronics/computers. The ghanna computer
"scientist" didn't know you can securely erase things or just NOT put personal info. on your computer? Storing your credit card info is MEGA stupid.
And like OH MY GOD!!!! you can plug an HDD into a working computer and READ
THE DATA! Somebody call the president! Just deleting the files doesn't really delete them!
Also, none of these places have a bulk eraser? Especially school districts
and Northrop Grumman?
This program confirmed many of my suspicions regarding the often corrupted facade we like to call "recycling." But moreover I feel that I must respond to an earlier posting that I believe aims at the heart of this and probably every other stain on this planet as a result of the spread of western cultural influence. This person simply posted, "God help our
children how they can live in this polluted world????" The truth is like the program points out, they don't have a choice. If they did these poor people would certainly be elsewhere. Moreover it sickens me to the core when I
read or hear from someone who seems to think that something is going to come down to earth or simply appear and through some invention or divine intervention we can all just keep living our comfortable lives however we want.
The troubling thing is that this could not be further from reality and I can tell just reading most of these folks reactions that they simply don't get it. I think that seeing it on an individual basis I am reminded of how self-absorbed we are as a so-called culture and society. This makes me even
more sick knowing that after watching little kids in Ghana breathing in their old computer parts so they could stream Fox News and porno twice as fast, the most dis-concerning portion of the program was a less than half a minute section on how to destroy your hard-drive. I guess to most folks that is what this video was about. Never mind the title, or any other part of this important gruesome spotlight on the true values of western culture. After
all, tomorrow we can all wake up and destroy our computers properly in time to get in line at Wal-Mart to buy an even better one. We can even say that it's to celebrate Thanksgiving, yeah ... that sounds good!
I have heard that it is pointless to "recycle" unless you buy recycled. I wonder if there is any recycled content in an I-Pod or a
Mac? From this report it is clear that unless you as a consumer create a market for recycled content goods, then there isn't going to be any economic
benefit down the line for anyone to safely recycle your old crap and it's
going to end up in the lungs and tissues and rivers of the people in this documentary. I want to know what the people at HP, Dell, Motorola, Apple, IBM, Nokia, Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, and all of their cohort are doing about this. They are reaping the profits why can't they share in fixing the toxic legacy. Most of toxins involved here (metals, retardants, dioxins from
burning are persistant and bioaccumulative, meaning they don't break down in the environment and end up in the food chain). And, oh yeah, there's global atmospheric impacts from the burning and incineration. So you are also getting to drink and breathe a little bit of your old computer, too. What about reuse? Reuse is about 100 times better than even the best recycling.
Pause before your next cell phone, computer, printer purchase and ask how
you have avoided being part of the problem.
New York, NY
Thanks so much for sharing this video, it's heartbreaking but I am so glad that I am aware of the alarming problem. I am working on
a project about e-waste and discovering many dimensions of the problem. Now
I would second, third and fourth thought before buying and dumping electro
nics. Once again thank you.
DAR ES SALAAM, DAR ES SALAAM
Our lives are depending on the environment, WHY ARE WE NOT ROYAL TO IT?
So what do we do with computer manufacturers that claim their PC's are enviromentally friendly since they are constructed from aluminum and use acid free glass? I can assume they end up in the same e-waste locations shown on the video? If so, then the first generation of these manufacturing techniques are putting a bigger strain on the environment. How do environmental societies and groups answer to that when we here in the US are prohibited from disposing of electronic waste. Its too expensive startup e-waste business here, let alone the legislation necessary to foster jobs and infrastructure.
I just want to know that the next time some egg head wants to convince me their computer is better for the environment when it all seems to end up in
the same place.
I would/will pay a fee to have my electronics recycled in a sustainable way. Why isn't it mandatory? I always donate my gear with a note taped to it stating whether it is working or not. I include a cd with the appropriate drivers and I always overwrite the data on my hard drive. It never ceases to disappoint me humanity's inability to prioritize the long term over the short term. When in the long term it is always the short term that costs more.
It looks like the cities were hit by the apocalypse.
Its funny that a lot of people are surprise that it has been happening, when in fact back in the mainframe days before PC was though=
t of, these huge computers were being bought by the Taiwan agents living in the U.S. with their families and shipped over in containers back in the 70's. They would be shipped both to Taiwan and China for recycling. That's where all the electronics and computers from the FAA went which turned one of own recyclers into a millionaire over night. Even GSA property disposal was aware of what was happening. The workers overseas would be paid anywhere from a couple dollars to eight dollars a day to tear apart the electronics for their boss. A lot of the precious metal and circuits were put into new products and sent back to us. Today it is the issue of getting rid of millions of CRT's
Belford, New Jersey
This is an outrage that we have alowed such a breach of security to our nation I can just see an evil doer getting there hands on information that will kill as much as the pollution is going to kill life around the dumping grounds. We have to put a stop to this now by educating everyone about this gigantic problem at the local level to get with it like India will be doing soon.
M. Cameron Estrada
Seattle (Sammamish), Washington
I think this is really f'ed up. I watched the orig. broadcast of this program and I have been very proactive since. I have made everyone I know watch and pass it along to all they know. Hopefully we as the people can actually make an impact on the ever growing E-Waste problem our global economy, neighbors, aand friends.
We are stewards of our earth- each and every one of us- and it mystifies me to find a betrayal to not only our fellow man but also the larger environment we call our home. At first, it seems like common sense would fix this, but we don't seem to have common sense on the forefront of our minds. The biggest thing here is education- now I know, now I want to take action. This was a very informative documentary and I appreciate Frontline for presenting such in-depth coverage.
Salt Lake City, UT
I used to believe in the free market theory, although now I believe Noam Chomsky is right -- the free market is a myth. Corporate lobbying and big money always turn the table in their favor, but we are only told we have a free market.
That said, I would have to drive an hour, and pay $35 from where I live to recycle an old computer. That's too big of a pain. The free market is not doing a good enough job at making it so people can recycle electronics. Each county or city should have a drop off facility to help people handle this problem.
Part of the problem may be we used to have a steel mill here, but it was closed down when tariffs were lifted on steel imports. Hence, we have problems recycling our own metals.
Vancouver, BC Canada
Looking at all these comments, people are being shocked in general. So do I. However, how many of you including myself are willing to pay from your own pocket to recycle e-waste properly? And how much are you willing to pay?!
its terrible to see such hazardous condition in GHANA. It needs to adopt a standard practice of disposal of e-waste there.
lindsey de klerk
cape town, south africa
I always enjoy reading about what's happening in other countries. Sometimes when it's heartbreaking i feel the pain with them, i really do!
lindsey de klerk
cape town, south africa
Thanks for that show. It gave me a lot of insight and i learned much!
This may be named after the biblical places of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the only biblical place I can equate it with is hell.
I don't mean Ghana. I mean the US (and other 'throw away' nations).
There is no 'throwing away' in the world -- we are encapsulated together on this small blue planet. At least the Ghanaians understand this with 'recycling' - while the West puts its head in the sand and chooses to ignore.
Who is in the greater hell? Those in need and happy or those in greed and
You answer for yourself.
Never realized how the problem has been scaled up. Is there a solution?
Worcester, Western Cape
The only way of dealing with the e-waste is to force the manufacturer of electronic products to build recycling plants that are safe and to recycle at least the same tonage as the tonage they produce in new products.
Amazing how thousands of tons of e-waste can get there? How come no one has sent a tractor to dig holes and bury it all? Just like Hawaii.
Thanks for this. Frightening and depressing, but definitely worth watching. I must investigate what happens to Australia's e-waste.
I hope this e-waste activity does not reach the Caribbean, particularly in a poor country like Haiti. Already vehicles that do not meet emissions standards end up in many Caribbean states. Stale dated foods also seem to find its way into the region. The Developed World is using The Third World countries as its refuse bin.
Our Free World model is not responsable for its global footprint ... Why not charge for the cost of disposal when the item is purchased? Companies can be held responsible for not providing environmentally friendly ways to dispose of their products.
Eye opener! I think we are murdering our mother earth; and she is dying a slow, slow death. I really pity the people who have to work in this mess -- not of their choice I am sure.
I was so upset when I saw this report. The garbage of the first world is always sent to third world countries and most people around the world don't know that this is happening. What can we do to stop this from happening?
We need to send our waste to third world countries because that is where it comes from to begin with. If China hadn't been shipping us garbage they call goods they wouldn't be getting back the ewaste. It is just full circle.
Port Moordie, Alberta
Don't buy stuff you don't need. Don't be materialistic. You don't need an Ipod! Demand that manufacturers take responsibility for their products from cradle to grave.
I agree with Joel, from Illinois: this report deserves to be posted everywhere. It will be on ondas3.blogs.sapo.pt, a Portuguese blog posting news and commenting on environmental issues since January 2004.
I have never seen anything that made me feel like the world is coming to an end until I saw this. The transfer of e-waste from one broker to another reminds me of the sub-prime and student loan crisis -- ie, bad and defaulted loans being passed from one collector to the next.
San Luis Obispo, CA
60 Minutes also had a segment on this topic. It is so out of hand. I wish more media time be devoted to it, and similar social disasters. Great program, thank you.
How powerfully disturbing that our throw-away lifestyle of decades has come to this. Our children inherit a world that is such a vast dumping ground that industrial shipping containers look like tiny Legos in perspective.
I find this presentation revealing once again, the blinders are on and our excuses will override our obligation to humanity, to do the right thing, once and for all. We rationalize the reality of suffering caused by our own greed and narcissism to the point of being inhuman!
How can we all constantly live with ourselves and ignore the responsibility we have to this planet, it's people and it's survival? I ask you to look at your consumption, it's overindulgence, and actively participate in your solution to solve the problems at your level. You have the power within you to do something! You do not need the government to say it is OK before you act!! Stop being so mindless!!!
Grahamstown, South Africa
I found this a very sobering reminder of how little control we have in a globalized system. We need to take action within the parameters of our own communities, if we are to help stop this sort of social and environmental disaster from recurring - at home and abroad. Paul Connett and Bill Sheehan asserted in a visionary article on Zero Waste that the antidote to over-consumption is community building.
Long Beach, California
I enjoyed the multiple viewpoints this represented. I recently attended an environmental summit in Japan with delegates from America, China, and Japan. The topic of E-Waste wasn't covered, but I am appalled to find out how difficult it truly is to have a computer honestly recycled. I hope the students had a good of time as I did watching it.
Did President Obama visit Agbogbloshie and the Korle Lagoon on his recent visit to Ghana?
I've always reformatted my hard drive on my computers before I got rid of them, which wipes everything clean.
First we need to ask ourselves why there is so much waste. Companies like Dell (which my employer uses) do not make "upgradable" computers. So when you require more memory you have to buy a whole new hard drive. Maybe governments should outlaw that built in obsolescence. Would be a good start.
What never ceases to amaze me is that people responsible for poisoning human beings in the name of maximizing profit are allowed to operate according to the law. I'm talking about CEOs, their lobbyist, and the politicians who ease regulation in exchange for campaign contributions.
Sure there are powerful forces beyond our shores that make this a difficult issue. But it starts at home. Frontline started it with this report. Thank you.
I share other viewers' amazement at the carelessness implied throughout this stream of waste. The "leaking" of data on old hard drives, the mishandling of toxic plastics, and the lack of governance all reflect a limited view of the world and our impacts upon it.
As noted by "anonymous" above, there is a tremendous power of inertia in situations that profit from our ignorance. Clearly we need to address systemic issues of profit and poverty. While this certainly should include educating would-be workers of the risks they face, we need to go further upstream, to the people and institutions who create these terrible risks for unprotected citizens of Ghana, China, and other nations.
Increasing regulations and improving oversight along the path of waste and recycling -- from pick-up to distribution to dumping -- is important. Equally important is the concept of Producer Responsibility. If electronics
were made to last longer, to be repairable, and to be recovered by the manufacturer when they wear out or are outdated, then there would be no inducement to ship e-waste overseas. Designing for repair and for re-use is an old-fashioned notion, but will help solve a 21st century problem.
The main idea of Producer Responsibility is simple: "If you are smart enough to make it, you are smart enough to take it back." This sounds like what Laura's group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, is advocating. The State of California, too, is inching towards an "Extended Producer Responsibility" framework, but legislators need to hear many citizens' voices to overcome the objections of industry.
California already requires "proper" disposal of e-waste, meaning that it cannot go to landfill. But the costs for municipalities to recover all discarded electronics responsibly would exceed their current waste and recycling budgets. As a result, taxpayers are shouldered with hidden after-costs of "inexpensive" electronics long after their purchase and disposal have been forgotten. Producer Take-back laws will put the responsibility back where it belongs: in the hands of the makers.
I work with Green Sangha in the SF Bay Area, where we are advocating a complete rethinking of plastics. Zero Waste, Green Chemistry, and Extended Producer Responsibility are the kinds of thoughts we need to cultivate if we want to save our neighbors around the world from the pollution so vividly depicted in this excellent program on Frontline.
WOW, this is really shocking. More things like this need to be done to force people to react against all of the horrible things we're doing to our planet.
Talking about a target rich environment. There are so many issues raised in "Ghana Digital Dumbing Ground" one would be hard pressed to know even where to begin.
Data security, environmental safety, toxic waste, pollution, health related costs, and national, economic, and personal security.
We are all made victims. There are no easy winners here.
Thank you for covering this subject.
That is a real eye opener and I hope that the environmental, health, and security issues are answered ASAP. I can look after my own security with a hammer I have just found out! I will share this with both friends and colleagues.
God help our children how they can live in this polluted world????
Queretaro, Queretaro MEXICO
Jesus!! What happened with the authorities between 2001 and 2009?
If I didn't have an ulcer in my stomach before seeing this, I do now. I'll be forwarding this episode to everyone I know, asking them to help me think of ways to establish tighter laws that encompass cradle to grave responsibility.
I found this to be a very moving piece. Kudos to Frontline and the journalism school for bringng issues like these to the forefront of the underground discussion. As a citizen of the United States of America, it makes sense for us to contact our elected representatives to help advocate change to make our country and world a better place. Below is a link you can use to contact your representatives in our U.S. Government. (I e-mailed the President and then my elected offical here in Virginia) Since the issue involves the economy,environment and homeland security, it seems that there is the potential for the issue to become legislation and thus become new public policy. The question now involves the How. How do we make this idea viable, effective legislation? Share. Discuss. Thank you.
Wow, I can't believe what is happening. The east makes electronics for us and it goes back to them, killing them slowly. I hope we can all do something to recycle properly even if it costs us more. It will save our earth in the long run.
Cardiff, South Wales, UK
Excellent story, subject of my university thesis. More info please!
I agree with "anonymous": Educating the locals as to the true health effects and empowering the local governments to take responsibility is the answer.
This was an excellent piece for those who do not follow the law or, more importantly, the morally right way to dispose of e-waste. You should do a show about the right way and the companies that at a high financial cost do recycle e-waste the right way. This program did not bring that out at all.
It's really one shocking video, not only for the risk of personal information leakage from the old hard drives, but also for the e-waste we generate everyday. Even in the rural country side in China, now more and more families have e-waste, e.g. old mobile phones, old TV sets and even old computers. They don't know how to deal with the waste safely. How to recycle this waste will be another big challenge for the government and the whole society.
Rich is not a term I would apply to myself, but when I see that the 3 monitors, 27 ink cartriges, 1 desk top computer and the 7 broken modems and graphics cards I sent to e-recycling could possibly end up ruining the personal health and homes of many in developing countries, I am ashamed. We are still behaving like the rich profiting off the backs of the poor. It is time to hold American industry accountable, by making them SHOW and CERTIFY recycling. I applaude those who are doing the right thing ... for those others ... you are killing yourselves and your children along with the rest of us.
This video is eye opening, but for some of us who have seen this for many years, it is not a new development. It is very devastating seeing the effects of these poisonous gadgets dumped by the west. However, it is an outrage to read some of comments here. Some people are more interested in US security than the millions of life that will be eventually destroyed by pollution from lead and other poisonous substance. I know they are all important, but please human life first.
This video was very true however in my line of work the best way to solve this problem is to salvage and refurbish the equipment so that the third world countries can have affordable technology. Equipment that cannot be salvaged should be smeltered correctly; however this is very costly in the USA due to labor and environmental laws. Get the EPA out of the way and let the free market develop the technology to do this responsibly.
Consumers need transparent recyclers. They should be able to pay a little extra and know their electronics are actually recycled in processing facilities.
I am really surprised that Westerners find this dumping of e-waste appalling. Africa has long since been a dumping ground for all sorts of waste including very very toxic waste. machinery, vehicles, clothing, food, medicine, knowledge and propaganda. If not for the usually inferior direct chinese imports into Africa ask me how many brothers and sisters can afford brand news items. Almost all that comes from the West into Africa is secondhand/obsolete. What you are seeing now is happening all over Africa and is the consistent manipulation of leadership in Africa leading to the abject poverty of its citizenry in a relatively resource-rich continent.
I am sorry to see such a thing in Ghana, I thought my county Liberia was the worse. Thank God it is not, I want the people of Ghana to be careful with what is going on, this could cause serious health problem in the future.
San Francisco, CA
This is no surprise to me at all. When I want to get rid of a hard drive, I perform a full DoD wipe in addition to physically destroying it.
We consider the speed of growth and technology to be the greatest achivement of the 20th Century, yet I see it as the rapid destruction of the world. Our lifestyles, businesses, industries, and way of thinking are using up and disposing of the waste at such an alarming rate that one must ask themselves, where does this end? If things are accelerating this fast now and we have barely made an attempt at evaluating changing our impact, then how will things play out 20 years from now??? We are truly running to the edge of a cliff, blind folded.
What a fabulous show! Frontline is my favorite show! My thanks to all who presented this information! It's quite frightening to think what countries are being exploited. I am sure there are more. What can I do to help the cause?
You can get more information on how to dispose of e-waste responsibly at: www.gesrecycles.com
I am glad to see the issue of data security being addressed in conjunction with the e-waste issue. It only stands to reason that if some irresponsible recyclers don't have the integrity to follow the rules concerning exporting e-waste, they certainly are not going to be concerned with any data contained on the devices. This was a great piece -- well done.
Absolutely shocking. Very well done. This information needs to get to everyone that owns a computer.
So many of the topics that Frontline addresses through its shows are truly eye-opening. Its astounding that so many of us have no idea what is happening outside of our US walls. I think that by watching and at least being aware of these issues, such as the electronic waste that is occuring in our world, people will at least be more aware of the problems our world faces rather than be completely unaware. So to all who watch Frontline and pay attention to these issues, don't stop. It makes a difference.
Fernandina Beach, FL
I just recently heard someone state that one of the biggest problems with the free market is that it doesn't factor in peripheral costs (social, environmental, systemic) ... enterprises generally only factor in costs to themselves. This seems like an example of an immense "cost" that was never fully considered.
I find it somewhat troubling that the main concern of the people posting comments here is more about their own personal data than the impact the industrial world is having on the rest of the world. I fear that this is symptomatic of a greater problem of unaccountability of the developed world, which allows this sort of thing to happen. There should be a greater awareness about the imact of all our waste on the rest of the world ... but thank you Frontline, this was very informative and I have spread the word.
The driving factor behind this is the ratio of labor value to equipment value. Consumers in the northen hemisphere take no responsibility in recycling their own waste, because any value they would gain is tiny in comparison to their hourly wage and the time needed to make the effort. In contrast, hourly wage is so low in 3rd world countries that recycling becomes an attractive business. Sad as it is, the e-waste situation is not the problem, it is a symptom. Poverty is the real problem, and the illusion of unlimited resources people hold in the (so called) developed world. As long as human lives are cheap, and ignorant labor is plentiful, there will always be exploitation. Educating the would-be e-waste work force so they can make an infomred decision on whether or not to endanger their lives (or their children's) to make an income will be more effective than trying to force the hand of those who profit from their ignorance. Law enforcement can always be circumvented with enough money -- a dwindling of profitability cannot.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
This is an outrage! These people do not deserve this.
For heavens sake, we are talking about health hazards here, and all the investigation is worried about is the data left on this e-waste. As always, "No one cares about the poor."
I am shocked at the way computers are disposed!! Makes me sad that people in third world countries have to work these dumps to make money. I didn't realize. And I know I will be crushing my hard drive when I get rid of the desk top computer! Just like the man did in the film! Thank you for doing this story and I will pass it on.
I gotta share this with my classmates!
This was very informative. I had no idea electronics were being shipped out of the US -- but it makes sense that they are, strictly from a monetary standpoint. The people breathing all of that in are going to have an effect on their bodies and minds for decades to come.
In first semester microeconomics, we were taught that "negative externalities," like the topic of this piece, is one of about five situations in which markets fail. Governments must do what markets fail to do.
Kenny Gravitt, GES
What an incredibly well-done, important program. Our gratitude goes out to Peter Klein and his graduate students for shining a light on this global problem. As a certified e-recycler in Kentucky, we are passionate about and completely committed to environmental sustainability--and we believe that the less fortunate citizens of our planet should not suffer the dangerous consequences of our discarded technology. The world needs to see more programming such as this so that honorable equipment manufacturers and honest electronics recyclers can tackle this crisis together.
-- Kenny Gravitt, Global Environmental Services, www.gesrecycles.com
Budd Lake, NJ
There is a solution. All e-scrap movment needs to be documented on a regulated manifest system just like hazardous waste is. When was the last time you saw a video about illegal or harmful hazardous waste dumping? It stopped because when illegally dumped material is discovered there's a way to track where it came from. People wound up with big fines and in jail. The time is long overdue for this kind of accountability and responsibility to come to the world of e-waste and put an end to these horrors.
How Can we in the US better control this situation? After all, most of these electronics come from the US.
I am currently a community organizer with Texas Campaign for the Environment and our mission for the past 6 years has been to gain corporate responsibility for e-waste. In 2007, we got legislation passed requiring computer manufacturers to have free and responsible recycling for their old products. We also got similar legislation passed for TV manufacturers, HOWEVER the wonderful governor vetoed our bill (HB 821). We are now working on the federal level to make sure that existing laws concerning toxic e-waste export are enforced, and that it is ended once and for all. Being the fastest growing waste stream in the world, the potential for creating green jobs here in the US to recycle these products -- under the correct safety and health conditions -- is enormous. Please check us out, and join in on the fight to end dumping of e-waste on developing nations and in our landfills here at home by writing letters and becoming a member! texasenvironment.org. Thanks all!
South Haven, Michigan
I think the Mindset Foundation should share at least a Pulitzer with Peter & the UBC students for their courageous work on this global e-dumping expose. In my opinion, these dumpers are committing true "crimes against humanity."
There are tools available on the Internet to properly wipe the data from a hard drive before it is disposed of. Darik's Boot and Nuke is a good example. Furthermore, if full disk encryption is used (TrueCrypt or Pretty Good Privacy) then the data on the drive was never written in such a way that it can be read without the decryption keys. Thus, even if the disk is taken out of the original computer and put into a new one it cannot be read without the decryption keys which are nearly impossible to recover by analysis of the encrypted drive.
Finally, if the user is not sophisticated enough to employ any of these means then there is always the old standby, as demonstrated on your program, a large hammer.
However, I must say that I was surprised at how sloppy a major defense contractor like Northrup Grumman was with data destruction. They of all people should know about proper data destruction methods. They should have a degaussing station to pass hard drives through on their way to the industrial strength waste shredder or the smelter. Really quite inexcusable for professionals like them to be so utterly careless and sloppy.
San Jose, California
This is a critical mess. I would hope that at some point the government takes a serious look into this situation as well as companies being more responsible. There should be in place more security measures, such as transparency and overseeing of materials that are considered e-waste.
I was appalled and thankful to learn and increase my awareness on this important topic. I feel so strongly that I feel the need to begin to learn what happens in my own community and Province.
This is a "must see" or "must read" for everyone that has a computer, both individual- and business-owned. I am amazed at the number of people that just toss their computers out thinking they've erased all of their personal/confidential data, only to learn later that their identity has been compromised and have no idea why!
And to see where these computers go and the risk that the people take in stripping these units down is unbelievable. We should at least be thankful that our laws are such that we wouldn't be put at risk like these other countries their people from all the toxicity involved in the way they rip the equipment apart to resell it. Thanks PBS for airing this story. I really hope that a very large audience is able to experience this very enlightening story.
This week's Stories from a Small Planet was excellent. I found the info on electronic dumping powerful; I liked seeing what is being done in India to help recycle; and the story about the special wheelchairs was edifying.
joel w carter sr
This information should be posted everywhere on the internet. and in all newspapers of the world. It is appalling the amount of e-waste there is.
This was an excellent show, injaz is doing a great job in the Arab world. I loved the Egyptian apprentice, very inspiring. By the way, there is already an "Apprentice Africa".