Waste: When Africa Became Capitalism’s Dumpster

As a result of the consumerist economic model, rich countries are faced with an increasingly large mass of waste. Sending them to Africa to treat them at a lower cost is tempting and has serious environmental and health consequences for the population.

A few weeks ago, Spanish customs put an end to the illegal trade in computer scraps to Africa. This breakdown highlights how rich countries get rid of their waste at a lower cost.

Bypass international regulations

It was from the Canary Islands that containers full of WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) were transported to Africa. A traffic that has been going on for two years. It brought in 1.5 million euros for about 5,000 tons dumped on the continent.

WEEE is considered hazardous due to the presence of mercury, cadmium, lead, phosphorus or arsenic. The Basel Convention, which has been in force since 1992, prohibits the export of this WEEE to poor countries.

To circumvent this convention, simply state that these are second-hand devices. This is how thousands of tons of computer equipment are shipped to Ghana. The system works well. Wholesalers supply shops around the country, selling used or repairable computer equipment, while the rest, usually 70%, ends up at the Agbogbloshie landfill near the capital Accra.

Pollution of land and sea

The waste is processed by thousands of people, who burn the components to recover precious metals, releasing thick fumes that are as dangerous to the environment as they are to the workers. Soil analysis reveals heavy metal pollution hundreds of times higher than the permissible limit.

Another polluting factor is textiles. They come from used clothing collections in rich countries or are sent directly by companies. Indeed, 40% of production is thrown away. These clothes, often of poor quality, respond above all to the economic model of fast fashion. Regardless of quality, the idea is to produce updates as quickly as possible to encourage purchases. As with computer products, lots are issued to retailers, but only a small amount can be sold. Other used, damaged or soiled clothes are sent to landfills. Over time, they form caterpillars that can reach tens of kilometers in the oceans, preventing artisanal fishing activities. Other pieces end up in drains and cause flooding that helps spread yellow fever mosquitoes.

Irresponsible politics

Twenty years ago, journalists revealed that the Calabrian mafia was unloading containers full of toxic and radioactive products off the coast of Somalia. Massive pollution has had dramatic consequences for the population, particularly an increase in birth defects. An ongoing experience. Thus, Trafigura, one of the first oil brokerage companies, did not hesitate to dump toxic products into the lagoon of Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.

After Asian countries such as China, Malaysia or the Philippines refuse to accept waste from Western companies, companies turn to Africa. So the American Chemistry Council is lobbying the White House to bring together major US oil companies to export millions of tons of plastic waste to Kenya when the country no longer has the capacity to adequately clean up its own waste. Whether it’s human traffickers, mafia or “honorable” business leaders, exporting waste to Africa is a way to make or save money. But it is also, and above all, a way to perpetuate a system of overconsumption that brings profit, regardless of the consequences for the environment.

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