My quest following the e-waste trail began by accident while standing over the cliffs looking at the icebergs in Uummannaq, Greenland, in November 2010. I could see the results of our modern day throw away society, discarded junk: computers, dish washers, washing machines, televisions, stereos, office supplies, toilets, trucks, cars…
Junk, the past, present colliding into the future.
This waste had come from the former Soviet Union, Western and Eastern Europe and Asia, big cargo ships were bringing it via currents in the Ocean to the land ends of Greenland. The World was poisoning Greenland. This waste was coming from some of the biggest polluters in the World. The question I asked myself was simple: was society – in its mad drive in the so-called interest of modernization – polluting the Earth with no care to the future and the next generation that will inherit the Earth?
I started to ask myself that very cold day watching icebergs melting in Greenland from global warming: how many computers my friends and others had in their lifetimes? Mobile phones? Televisions? IPods?
After some research I found out that the number of estimated computer users in the world exceeds one billion, and cell phone users exceed 4.6 billion. A computer’s average “life span” is three to five years. For an IPhone, it is only two years. As technology improves in leaps and bounds, older versions of electronic equipment become obsolete, requiring their replacement. Less than one year since the overwhelmingly successful debut of the IPad, there is a new version; within one month, thirty million IPad 2 units were sold. Given these levels of demand, it is no surprise that we generate between twenty to fifty million tons of e-waste, each year.
The amount of e-waste we generate is unfathomable, and has resulted in ecological devastation, destroying millions of families, who must harvest whatever is salvageable at great risk to their lives.
The following of the e-waste trail began as a question and in time became a photographic documentary journey that would cover three continents and over 60,228 km, tracking the afterlife of electronic trash, as corporations and governments make irresponsible, yet lucrative, deals, at enormous injury to the world’s most vulnerable citizens.
E-waste is comprised of toxic agents like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), copper, lead, zinc, gold, iron, thallium, mercury etc. Lead is present in computer monitors and televisions and is poisonous for the nervous system and progressively attacks the brain. Too high toxic levels can lead to paralysis. Cadmium is the main component in some batteries and circuit boards and causes cancer. Mercury affects the brain and nervous system. PCB is a dioxin linked to birth defects.
In graveyards of electronic waste, air, land and water are experiencing unprecedented levels of toxic pollution. Skin ulcers have been reported among children who swam in rivers and streams. Dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science, has been detected in mothers’ breast milk.
The crisis is here and it is daunting. Common problems of developing nations, such as waste disposal, poverty and violence are exacerbated by the e-waste phenomenon. The sad reality for me personally, is that the more civilized we have become the more barbaric we act towards our fellow humans.