Wastes particularly from ICT components that include electronics and electronic parts that have been used and dump are becoming a serious issue in Australia and globally. The wastes normally called e-wastes contains lethal chemicals such as heavy metals and other toxic producing components. The root of these wastes can be traced to the original engineering company that manufactures the electronic without considering the waste chain. One of the worst dumping sites that have received attention recently is the Agbogbloshie dump in Accra Ghana. An e-wastes case that recently strikes the news is the case of St George Bank monitor that was discovered in Agbogbloshie dump by WorkVentures and reported by ABC news. In the case, a 13-year-old boy was seen carrying the monitor with sticker of St George Bank at the Agbogbloshie dump as reported by an environmental report in Ghana. This left many questions about the integrity of both waste chain and data stored in most e-wastes. The Agbogbloshie dump has attracted many concerns as wastes derived from many western countries piles within this dumped. Security of the data contained in computer parts forms the main concern as some e-waste from countries such as the USA with sensitive information are also spotted in this dumping site. There are health, environmental, information and ethical outcome of this case. The following paper, therefore, seeks to analyze the e-waste case and outcome experienced along the e-waste chain.
Australian e-waste ending up in toxic African dump, torn apart by children
St George Bank, wholly owned by Westpac discovered its used computer that was destined for recycling by WorkVentures. These e-wastes most computer parts and electronics that are hazardous and are shipped out of the country illegally. The bank monitor was discovered raises the question on Australia e-waste management system (Tourneau 2017).
St George bank as a company has good waste management strategy that involves giving away its electronics that are not used to recycle company. The matter reported by the Ghanaian environmental reporter during the normal health check to the Agbogbloshie dump conducted periodically at the world’s worst dumping site. According to the reporter, more than 500 containers containing e-wastes from western countries are visible in the area. Many of these wastes are currently coming from Australia. This left many wondering the ethical moral of those companies dumping e-waste in this area (Tourneau 2017; Fela 2010, pp 117).
The situation at the Agbogbloshie dump is worsening, Australia being a bigger consumer of electronic products has its over 600,000 tonnes of e-waste annually dumped at Agbogbloshie. St George Bank monitor was part of this growing pile of e-waste at Agbogbloshie. The monitor was thus featured hold by a boy at the Agbogbloshie dump for Don Quinn, operations manager at WorkVentures. It is reported that the company has contracts for Westpac's 15,000 e-wastes that end up in the dumping areas. Moreover, Westpac's concern is about computers being dumped within the area and integrity of the waste disposal chain (Tourneau 2017; Minter 2016).
Figure 1 Boy holding monitor from St George Bank (Tourneau 2017)
The overall effects of the Agbogbloshie dump are visible on the health of children living in this place and some of this is based on disease. This case revealed the heart and skin problems that characterize those kids living within the Agbogbloshie dump. The reporter indicated that most of these kids are suffering from skin problem mostly open skill sore. A close look at the life of kids living in this area reveals that some of these kids end up dying as a result of health problems (Yoshida 2011).
Figure 2 Kid holding electronic part (Tourneau 2017)
Agbogbloshie e-waste dumping site in receive attention from many different countries since very sensitive information is dumped within this location inside computer components. The result of the case left many questions about waste chain players particularly the recycler of e-waste, the transfer of e-waste from Australia to Ghana and result of the damping site. The dumping site has attracted various outcomes that range from health, environment, and information security and ethical issues related to e-wastes (Ghana e-Waste Country Assessment 2011).
Major outcomes of the case
The security of information that is contained within these e-wastes particularly computer parts is essential. Computer hard disks normally contain some vital information that is not easily erasable and this information is leaked to other wrong individuals has detrimental effects. For example, the remains of computing mainly derived from St George Bank, wholly owned by Westpac were discovered in the damping site in Ghana and has direct sticker bearing the name of the original company. This complicates the security of information contained in these computers (Doctorow 2009). Some other information that may remain in these e-wastes includes credit card details, bank account data, and transaction data that are essential for the company are thus exposed. Some of these computer data can be used by conmen to plan crimes and this has been the case in Ghana. In addition, studies show that electronic wastes dumped in Ghana have exposed many government files and multimillion-dollar contracts signed by government agencies to wrong individuals. Some of these agencies whose files have been exposed include Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Transportation Security Administration, and Homeland Security (Alghazo & Ouda 2016).
Impacts of data exposed to the wrong individual are also felt with Ghana and other areas that have been damping sites for e-waste. There are some organized criminals that have emerged to use data found within e-wastes at Agbogbloshie dump. Some of these criminals target banks and other financial institutions where they can use the information to con organizations (Krumay 2016, pp 48–68). Data privacy and data security is one issue that has emerged from these dumping sites. Many conmen have tried to access various sensitive information of large companies in western countries using these dumping sites, data have been obtained from e-waste. Dumping of e-waste has future data integrity issues that are risky for both organizations and customers of these organizations. Statistics show that there is an increasing trend of conmen attempting to use data from organization to access organization. For instance, security agencies in America have found their sensitive data within the Ghana dumping site and this has resulted in security concerns. Moreover, the public has question security of these organization due fear of losing data to gangs. According to Araújo, Magrini, Mahler, and Bilitewski (2012, pp 335–342), more than 1090 thousand tons of e-waste is expected to increase within the next 10 years of dumping.
Figure 3 E-waste computers (i.imgur.com, 2018)
The environmental outcome of e-waste
E-waste cause environmental pollution that has also been witnessed at Agbogbloshie dumping site. The environmental outcome of the e-wastes can be divided into airborne pollutions, heavy metals pollutions, and pollution of the ecosystem. These outcomes have a detrimental effect on a human being and other living things living in these areas.
Firstly, the environmental outcome of the e-waste that is dumped at Agbogbloshie dump, in Ghana's capital, Accra can be described based on airborne pollution that is evident within the location. Many studies indicate that the e-wastes that originate from western countries produce airborne dioxins that are dangerous to human and other living things. These toxic substances pollute the air and can also be traced on water bodies. In addition, glass dust and emissions of brominated dioxins are dangerous for lives of human and animals in the environment. Open burning of copper wires used in computers has been witnessed at Agbogbloshie the emit PAHs into the air that is toxic and contributes to a number of health problems. These airborne pollutants are normally washed down the water sources thus the toxicity is part of these water bodies (Chang, Assumaning & Abdelwahab 2015, pp 902–928).
Figure 4 Cow with skin would at Agbogbloshie dump (Guardian News and Media Limited 2018)
Secondly, heavy metals are another pollutants that have adverse effects on the environment and is common within dumped sites such as the at Agbogbloshie dump. According to Chimere, Bodegom, Martina, and Willie (2017, pp 911), at Agbogbloshie is characterized by heavy metal pollution since the effects are visible on those people leaving near the dump site. Presence of electronic and electronic parts contains heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and barium among others as these forms part of the electronics. In addition, the dumping site has e-wastes that contain these heavy metals. These metals are dangerous and move along the food chain within the living things. The adverse effect of these metals is felt on human health complication within dumping areas. For instance, heavy metals such as Lead that is mainly derived from computer monitors is a major contributor to liver and kidney damage (Needhidasan, Samuel & Chidambaram 2014, pp 36).
Figure 5 Dumped motherboards (Tourneau 2017)
Thirdly, another area of concern within the Agbogbloshie dumping site is pollution of the ecosystem. There are many living things around the dumping sites and they feed on plants and animals within this place. Heavy metals that form part of air, water and soil pollution are also taken in leading to pollution of the whole ecosystem within these areas. For instance, animals within these areas breath in emitted chemicals and also feed on plants and these toxic chemicals are thus taken in. plants also take in water polluted with toxic substances that are released from e-waste and are traceable within the food chain. This has an adverse effect not only to plants but also to a human being that sometimes feeds on these plants. Moreover, human being breath polluted the air that contains toxic gases and their lives are thus complicated by heavy metal diseases (Tourneau 2017).
Most of the waste that forms part of e-wastes are associated with non-biodegradable products that are environmental pollutants. Most components of e-products are not easily decomposed and have a direct impact on the environment. For instance, the dumping site in Ghana has a huge pile of electronic parts that are not decomposed. This has left many electronic parts littering the area. In addition, these wastes are not only dangerous for health system of the body but also cause injury to people living near the dumping site. This is evidence of children living in these areas as most of them have sores and open wounds on their skins (Xiangyang, Zhonggen, Xiaochun, Zhixuan & Wenlin 2011, pp 5126-5128).
Health impact of heavy metals used in e-products
Various chemicals and metals that are sued in development and manufacture of e-products have health problems that are attached to those metals. Some of these metals include Barium, Beryllium, Brominated flame retardants (BFR), Lead, Mercury, PVC, Cadmium, and Chromium. Barium is used to manufacture cathode ray tubes despite its effects on brain and muscles upon exposure leading to heart and muscle damage (Chen, Dietrich, Huo & Ho, 2011, pp 431–438). Beryllium forms a crucial part of electronic motherboards and has a high impact on lungs skin leading to various diseases. Brominated flame retardants (BFR) is another raw material that is used to manufacture housing case for electronic products or circuit boards and is connected to fetal damage and endocrine system abnormalities. Lead form part of circuit boards, gaskets and glass panels found in monitors and is toxic to kidneys, nervous, blood and reproductive system among other problems. Mercury is used to manufacturing relay switches or circuit board of e-products and is attributed to brain and kidney damages among adult or damages to the fetus (Wu, Xu, Peng, Liu, Guo & Huo 2012, pp 1–8). PVC is used in the manufacture of plastic or copper parts of electronics and is connected to reproductive and developmental problems due to it being hazardous carcinogens. Cadmium forms an essential part of chip resistors and semiconductors and is the causal for liver damage, neural damage, and kidney damage. Lastly, Chromium is another is used to protect untreated and galvanized steel plates and has an impact on health risk such as kidney and liver damage (Feldt, Fobil, Wittsiepe, Wilhelm, Till, et al, 2014, pp 466–467).
Ethics in e-waste disposal
Input-based e-waste ethical
Input-based e-waste ethical solutions are grounded on the inputs or raw materials that are used to design and manufacture e-products. Companies involved in the design and manufacture electronic products using non-harmful raw materials to manufacture computer parts and other electronic products is an ethical standard that needs to embrace at all cost. In addition, how producers design and manufacture products are important as this should take into considerations toxicity of the raw material used in manufacturing electronics. For instance, when manufacturing motherboards for various electronics the number one consideration that needs to be made is the impact of chemicals that are used to manufacture these e-products (Ashley, MacDonald & Amos 2008, pp 321).
Proactive Producer-initiated E-waste Ethical issues
E-waste chain includes many designers, producers, recyclers and distributors that each play an important role in the disposal of this wastes. The ethical solution lies in the redesigning of electronic products with extended life and this will help the number of products that end up becoming waste in short time. Products designers need to develop or design products that have a long lifespan and have minimal e-waste impact when disposed of. This works with chain players redesigning ways to reduce inter-firm waste transfers and proper management of obsolete products so as to reduce waste (Bhata 2016).
Proactive Consumer-initiated E-waste Ethical Solutions
There are some consumer-related e-waste management initiatives that can help prevent or reduce e-waste. Responsible usage and proper disposal of e-products is one way that companies can use to reduce the impact of e-waste on environment and health. Moreover, consumer-initiated ethics serves to reduce the amount of e-waste at all cost since these products are dangerous to their lives. Consumer ethical codes indicate that consumers need to be aware of the environment and health implications of e-wastes and this is the basis of preventing waste disposed to dumps such as Agbogbloshie dump (Duan, Tan, Liu, Wang & Li 2016, pp 1929–1943).
Proactive Government-initiated E-waste Ethical Solutions
Government policies and legislation that limit and reduce e-waste forms the core ethical solution for e-waste management. The report indicates that most of the waste that is dumped in Ghana originates from western countries and this can only be reduced through government policies and legislation. Australia, for instance, is a major contributor of e-waste that is witnessed in Africa and this is due to policies that reduce disposal of e-waste. Furthermore, those companies that are involved in the waste chain leading to the disposal of waste at Agbogbloshie dump need to be held accountable for the pollution within this area including impacts of these e-wastes. Among some of the government policies issues that can reduce e-waste include the slow production of those products that are likely to become waste, reduction of importing or exporting waste, and tax waste disposing firms (Meenakshisundaram & Sinha 2011).
Protective Justice-related E-waste Ethical and Moral Issues
Ethical theory of non-malfeasance indicates that designers and manufacturers need not harm the intended users or public in general with the products. Ethical consideration requires that manufactures protects consumers from risk associated with the products and this can ensures there are minimal risk from e-waste. In addition, manufacturers of electronic devices with short life does not consider the ethical codes that influence production and designing of electronic product hence this products end up becoming dangerous wastes. Therefore, protective justice in e-waste requires companies and manufacturers of electronic products to protect consumers from e-waste that are dangerous to health and environment (Jang 2010, pp 283).
Sustainable E-product Design
Pollution free initiative is better than recycling or reusing since recycled products end up in the same chain as the original products. Sustainable e-waste products design refers to the application of sustainability practice in designing of electronic with minimal environmental and health impacts. Companies that are designing ICT products need to embrace zero e-waste initiative that aim to reduce the amount of impact that is most likely to result from use of the electronics and ICT equipments. This is based on the need to reduce e-waste at all cost rather than recycling or reusing these e-wastes. For instance, those WestVenture that recycled computer in the St George Bank E-waste case ought to have thought about impact of computers despite recycling (Ghosh, Debnath, Baidya, Zheng et al. 2016).
Measures to reduce e-waste
Proper storage of sensitive data online is one way that can reduce risk associated with e-waste. E-wastes poses high information security risk and to ensure that sensitive information are safe, many companies has come up with online data storage where they store data. This reduces the used of e-products such as hard disks and other hard drives. Long impact of this measure ensures that there is minimal electronic usage that also reduces the electronic wastes dumped in the environment. In addition, these companies provide free storage for data that make the use of drives to store data meaningless except for those that are in continuous usage offline. Some of the company offering these services includes Google Drive from Google, Dropbox and IDrive (Li, Zeng, Chen, Ogunseitan & Stevels, 2015, pp 7095–7108).
Sustainable manufacturing approach for some technological companies
There are many different companies that has developed sustainable approach to manufacture their e-products. Some of these companies include Lenovo, Nokia and Apple among others (Kozlan 2010). Apple for example has developed sustainable approach to its manufacturing system where the company recycles most of its products to reuse for producing other products or same products. This initiative in 2015 was used by Apple to recover gold from old iPhones that are worth $43M leading to reuse. Moreover, some organizations such as European Union have devised policies that require recollecting of electronic products once used. This initiative works reduce dumping of e-waste that is dumped from western countries. Nokia e-waste management system was started in 2008 that aims to create awareness on recycling of e-waste. Under this initiative program Nokia has launched campaigns to bring back used electronics for recycling (Guo & Yana 2017, pp 321–329).
The hazardous nature of e-waste has attracted many companies to provide solution through recycling of these wastes. There is need to recycle e-waste to prevent these wastes from reaching other countries. For instance, many attempts to recycle e-waste in Australia has not borne fruits and these waste end up in Australia particularly Ghana. The challenges that has remain within this recycling initiative is the disposal of used e-products as recycling just prolong usage but will end up being dumped. In addition, the recycling of these computer products such as CPUs still end up being dumped one used by the next user. For instance, computers that were once used by St George Bank after recycled ends up again within the dumping site in Ghana. This implies that recycling does not solve the e-waste issues since the issue requires input based initiative that is traceable. Some of the benefits of recycling include reusing metals that could otherwise be toxic to environment, prolonging the life of the e-products, and increase the sustainability of e-products (Namias 2013).
In light of the e-waste case, there are some recommendations that can be implemented. Firstly, the government needs to enact laws that limit dumping of e-wastes or transfer of e-waste to other countries such as Ghana. Government within the waste chain can develop legislation that reduces waste at all cost through waste reduction policies. For instance, the government of Australia and government of Ghana need to develop legislation and policies that aim to minimize dumping of waste from at Agbogbloshie (Khaleej Times 2016). Intergovernmental initiatives require collaborations that reduce cross-border e-waste movement. The Ghanaian government needs to limit the importation of waste from other countries considering the environmental and health problems. One of the best ways to formulate policies to reduce e-waste includes regional and global organizations that come together to control environmental pollutions. Each member country can implements policies and will reduce dumping from other countries as each country will liable to obey regional policies. This has been done by European Union and implemented by member countries forming the regional organization (International Institute for Strategic Studies IISS 2013).
There is a need for consumer campaigns that aim to create awareness by companies to reduce careless dumping of e-waste. There is a need for wide consumer awareness campaigns that will help sensitize the public on the dangers of despising wastes. Campaigns will reduce exposure to these e-wastes to these pollutants. The public in Ghana is not aware of the dangers they are exposed to at the Agbogbloshie dump yet they continue to suffer. People are exposed to carcinogens and other toxic substance and creating public awareness will make them realize this danger desist from going to that dumping site. Companies should also start initiatives to recollect used products for recycling and redeveloping other products. For example, Nokia has been championing recollection of e-wastes especially mobile devices for recycling. This help to reduce the amount of e-waste that is dumped after using their mobile phones (United Nations News Service 2010).
Electronic consumers need to reduce electronic usage as a way to reduce e-waste that is dangerous for health. Consumers of an electronic product such as computer hard disks, memory devices, and other e-products can reduce their electronic usage by adopting current storage and online data storages. The initiative aims to advocate for online backup for data and storage of information. This implies that once most data are stored online the electronic devices that could otherwise use to store data do not purchase. In addition, this makes the cost of purchasing these computer devices used for other purposes. For instance, most of the e-wastes dumped at Agbogbloshie are computer parts such as memory devices, CPUs, and motherboards that could have been few supposed many of computer consumers were using online information systems (Ouda, Raza, Waked & Al-Asad 2015).
Companies involved in products of electronics need to redesign products with minimal hazardous wastes. There is a need for companies that are manufacturing electronic products or their parts to reduce the chemical or metals that are dangerous in the production of these products. This is an input based initiative that can reinvent metals or chemicals that can serve the same purpose as those heavy metals. This will reduce the impact of these chemicals and e-waste on the environment. Moreover, the amount of waste that is dumped at Agbogbloshie dump will subsequently reduce and their effects that are felt not only in the country but also in neighboring countries. For instance, these companies can re-engineer their products with minimal toxic substances as this is important for future sustainable practice. In addition, the initiative requires higher thinking on the solution to toxicity rather than management of these e-wastes (Ogunseitan, Schoenung, Saphores & Shapiro 2009, pp 670–671).
In conclusion, the overall outcome of e-waste is detrimental to human health and environment in general. E-waste is a global phenomenon that has attracted attention from every quarter owing to the outcomes of dumping these wastes without considering the effect and ethical issues related to these to dumping wastes. Recently, ABC News reported a case that involved St George bank monitor that was discovered in Agbogbloshie dump Accra Ghana. This has raised concerns that results from health, environmental, information and ethical issues related to e-waste management system as Australian toxic electronic wastes are dumped in Africa. Health risk, environmental risks, and information security are some outcome of the Agbogbloshie dump that is felt through disease presence on kids living in this place.
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