”This is one of the most notorious e-waste dumpsites in the world. We produce up to 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year, and our discarded devices increasingly end up in places like this dumpsite in Africa.”
These are the introductory words of the newest documentary directed by Cosima Dannoritzer, The E-waste Tragedy. The German director attempts to shed a light on why entire villages and cities of the ”third world” are submerged under waste, while in Europe illegal waste-handling practices are forbidden. The viewer is confronted with the harsh reality of Agbogbloshie, a village in the outskirts of Accra, in which children and adults scrape a living by burning electronic devices and by recovering gold, silver and other precious metals from the toxic ashes. By doing so, the natural environment gets severely poisoned and their internal organs severely damaged.
Why do advanced economies of the world fail to take measures against this obvious environmental and social destruction? Needless to say, the answer to this complex problem is not straight-forward and the scenarios are different. In some cases, trash is disguised as second-hand equipment or as development aid. This ”trick” allows smugglers to circumvent regulations and thereby export hazardous types of waste to developing countries. In other cases, ”recycling enterprises”, that are controlled by shadow entities in Luxembourg, get rid of waste illegally and cash-in the profits. Finally, there are recycling plants in Europe operating without respecting environmental standards.
In an interview released to a Spanish magazine, Dannoritzer explains:
”In Spain, politicians didn’t want to show up in front of the camera to admit that a problem exists. If people holding the power are closing their eyes, who will act? The Minister of Environmental Protection commented that it wasn’t his fault if people were abandoning things on the street. People abandoning things on the street…that’s not the real issue! We have proof grabbed with our cameras. It shows how trash never reaches recycling plants. Some chains like Carrefour decided to avoid us as well. They said that Africans and Chinese people want these materials. And finally, why aren’t we investing in those countries, in order to allow them to handle waste safely? The obvious answer is that it’s attractive to make profits and to do nothing.”
The documentary confronts the viewer with a depressing reality that institutions have so far inadequately addressed. It’s struck a chord with me, as a couple of months ago, I visited a municipal landfill in Uruguay. One thing that you have to know is that filming in landfills is illegal for ”security reasons”. ”Security” has a very perverse meaning, I quickly understood. People were handling waste without the proper equipment. They were breaking apart computer monitors to get the copper hidden in the cables. The situation that presented itself in front of my eyes wasn’t as precarious as the one shown in the documentary, I have to stress. However, capturing this reality with a camera was forbidden for ”security reasons”…whose secuirty?
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