The familiar Christian bible story tells of how David, a young man was sent to fight a giant named Goliath.  Well intended people tried to fit David with existing armor.  The armor was not custom made for David and was too big.   Fighting in the armor would have been a detriment.  David’s movements would have been restricted; his body literally weighted down.  Instead of fighting offensively, David would have been reacting to blows.  He was certain to die if he fought in the armor.  So instead, David decided to fight as he knew best; with sling shot and stones.  With his strategy, David slew the giant.

When it comes to computer waste, the principle of the story applies.  Computers contain toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. (Hodel, L.).  Throwing E-Waste into landfills creates a potential for toxic waste to leach into our soil and groundwater.  In spite of the danger of throwing away hazmat into the landfills, this is exactly where computers end up.   Because environmental standards for landfills are tougher in the United States than in many countries, e-waste is often exported, especially to China, India and Pakistan.

The UN Environmental Programme indicates that approximately between 20 to 50 million metric tons of E-Waste is being generated each year (McKenna  116).  This is about 5 percent of all municipal solid waste.  The computer waste, very often moves from the wealthier regions of the world (where it is generated) to poorer regions.  For instance, in April 2006 it was estimated that 500 shipping containers a month, loaded with second-hand electronic equipment, pass through Africa’s biggest port, Lagos. 

There has been failure to date of the developed world to prevent the illegal movement of its hazardous computer waste to poorer regions (McKennna  116).    International agreements have been drawn up to prevent the movement of hazardous material.  Yet in spite of this, the movement of hazardous computer waste across national borders continues to be an issue.

The creation of laws that is said to protect the poor regions is analogous to the armor given to David; ill fitted.  In the 1980’s, the issue of international waste dumping, particularly from wealthier nations to poorer ones, generated a lot of debate (McKenna 117).  As a result the international community adopted the ‘Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal’.  The United States was on the list of absentees of the states that ratified the Convention.  The Americans are reluctant to be bound by the provisions.  Clearly the law was made to placate those who saw the moves as unfair and abusive.   The fundamental flaw of the convention is that it did not totally ban the movement of the waste.  It was merely an exchange of paperwork between states to continue to allow the practice with no real protection offered for the developing countries where the waste ends up. 

It is important to note that high-income, highly industrialized countries make up 15% of the world’s population, yet they control 80% of world’s wealth (Wright, T. & Boorse, D.  2011). It should come as no surprise that the success or defeat of global laws depend on how they affect the ECD countries. The laws often protect the wealthier nations; in essence given them “buying power” in the international community.  In 1994 the second Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention adopted a full ban (with no exceptions) on the transfer of wastes from the OECD to non-OECD Countries (McKenna 117).  A year later, a decision to amend the Basel Convention was made.  There is an on-going disagreement over whether the amended Convention has achieved the necessary number of ratifications to make it legally effective.

How should the non-OECD countries stop the influx of hazardous computer waste?  They should come together and indicate, “not in my back yard”.  If more and more countries refuse to take in the waste, then every country is being made responsible for their own waste.  If the non-OECD countries do not take a stand, the mentality of entitlement (the idea that as long as there is money, someone else can clean up the mess), will not go away.

 

Works Cited 

Hodel, L. (2003).  High-Tech Trash.   Mother Earth News, 200,  38-39.

McKenna, A. (2007).  Computer Waste: A forgotten and hidden side to the global information society.   Environmental Law Review, 9, 116-131.

Wright, Richard, T. and Boorse, Dorothy. F.  Environmental Science Toward a Sustainable Future.  11th ed.  San Francisco, CA:  Pearson Education, 2011.

 

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