A new report by Consumers International, the world federation of consumer watchdogs, says thousands of obsolete computers, televisions and other household consumer electronics are disposed of in West Africa every month. The group says the practice is creating toxic dumps and contravenes international legislation that forbids it. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries agreed to a law that aims to stop the flow of electronic waste from being dumped in Africa and Asia. But Consumer International's Luke Upchurch says this has not stopped the dumping of end-of-life electronics in what he described as large swathes of the developing world.
Consumers International carried out investigations in Nigeria and Ghana.
"We could have looked at other areas of the world but I think for us West Africa is an area which often falls foul of such unscrupulous behavior and its something which we wanted to highlight," Upchurch said.
The report says of the hundreds of tons of obsolete computers, televisions and other household consumer electronics that arrive at ports in Ghana and Nigeria every month, as few as one in four of the imports are working. The rest, it says, are electronic waste, also known as e-waste, which often ends up on dumpsites.
Upchurch says the appliances are sent legally as working second-hand-use units even when the exporters are aware they are not working.
The arrival of flat-screen televisions and Thin Film Transistor monitors on consumer markets in the America and in Europe has set off a flood of old cathode-ray tube television sets spilling into Africa. In Accra and in Lagos, the report says, the change in European consumer habits is clearly visible as old-fashioned CRT television sets are lined up along the streets by their thousands.
In West Africa, refuse is often disposed of in fires. Waste collectors, mostly children, destroy the cathode ray tubes, and burn the wires and circuit boards inside, to get to metals such as copper, zinc, gold and other toxic materials, which they then sell.
Upchurch says this practice has a negative impact on the health of the waste collectors. He says respiratory illnesses are common in the areas and the toxins also find their way into water supplies.
"There are a lot of poisonous heavy toxic metals within the componentries of computers," he said. "The health repercussions of burning the plastics and the toxics are having quite an effect on the health of the children in the area."
The report urges tougher monitoring in exporting countries to ensure donated electronic goods are in working order when sent to developing countries.
Consumers International says obsolete electrical equipment should be disposed of or recycled in the country of origin, using environmentally sustainable methods as laid down by laws the countries have agreed to. Upchurch says 6.6 million tons of e-waste disappear to developing countries each year.