The E-Waste Burden and Recycling Industry Profit
As if it weren't already bad enough that the world is dumping its discarded e-waste in tucked away corners of the earth, closer inspection reveals that much of the waste being shipped has no worth outside of the raw components. Areas of northwestern Africa have been particularly inundated with shipments of e-waste. There are entire cities built around a thriving repair market, where bustling lines of shops sell essentially everything from cellphones to personal computers. The industry supports the community to a great extent, but does so at an enormous cost. This cost is known to the world, however, there is little talk of those that allow it to happen so freely.
At first the idea of a thriving port city that makes much of its livings through rehabbing old electronics sounds pretty good, maybe a little dystopian, but okay. However, if you look a little closer, you begin to realize that these port towns are absolutely inundated with daily shipments of e-waste. Not only that, but in reality much of each shipment is actual junk. Up to 75% of the contents of each shipping container is e-waste with no use or value outside of the meager price their raw materials fetch. These cities have little to no recycling capabilities and the most common approach is to dump it all together in vast deposits of deteriorating and toxic components. But why would these locations burden themselves with such vast amounts of waste? This question is hard to answer and things get murky fast.
On average, a typical shipping container of used electronics would cost around $5,000 dollars to import from the U.S. to Africa. However the price that some of those used electronics inside would fetch in Nigeria quickly covers this cost, and the remaining electronics shipped are typically completely useless. Much of these shipments happen in an unregulated market place where electronic recyclers rule and set market prices. These companies have near constant business due to the rapid pace of the electronic industries growth, and also receive incentives to take on additional waste that is difficult to recycle and the least cost-effective.
The majority of this waste, 44%, is comprised of batteries, fridges, cooling and heating components and other items that are not typically considered e-waste and have no redeeming value. Importers of used electronics will agree to take on certain amounts of this waste in return for higher portions of quality useable electronics. There is little to no regulation in place and it is not uncommon for inexperienced buyers to be sold shipments by the pound containing almost no usable material. The e-recycling business is a double-edged industry to say the least.