Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reduce Reuse Recycle . . .

. . . does not mean that you should send all of your old crap to Africa.

I have frequently sat in the passenger seat of a rickety taxi chugging along behind a van, truck or other rambling vehicle while it belches black, stinky smoke from its tail to my lungs.  While plugging my nose and holding my breath, I thought, "how on earth did that thing ever make it here?"  Over here we have every vehicle that drowned in Katrina, failed Obama's inspection or would never dare to fashion the streets of a cleaner city.  The funny thing - we don't even need vehicles.  Thanks for your offer, but we have enough.

Really, everything makes it to Africa eventually.  Africans proudly don the jerseys of Pittsburgh Steelers, carry their goods in cast off bags from Whole Foods and ride around in the car you smashed up and Carmax paid $500 for parts.  While on a relaxing holiday at my favorite beach joint, I noticed a recycling container labeled as property of Gulfport, FL.

A Newsweek article published in August, 2011 reports that, "on the outskirts of Accra lies the Agbogbloshie slum - one of Ghana's largest electronics-waste dumps.  Amid black smoke and the stench of burning plastic, a mountain of abandoned motherboards, computer monitors, and hard drives litters the landscape.  It is no wonder the locals call it, 'Sodom and Gomorrah'.  Behind this apocalyptic scene is the best of intentions gone awry."  Given the massive amount of electronic products produced each year, and technological advances that people just 'need' to have, the need for disposal alternatives has skyrocketed.  "The result has been unregulated shipping containers, marked 'donations'."  What happens once your electronic donations get here?  Well, given that we don't have a huge need for electronic equipment in rural villages with no electricity or internet, it is dumped into a treasure trove.  It is burned in order to extract copper and other salable metals.  Can you imagine the fumes and debris that pollute soil and water with high concentrations of lead, mercury and other toxic metals?

My message here:  Thanks for looking out for us.  Thanks for thinking about those in need.  But there's a balance.  Sending your unwanted consumerism as donations to those in extreme poverty doesn't take you off the hook for proper disposal of your unwanted goods.

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