BAN Report / October 24, 2005
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The Digital Dump: Summary of Findings

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  • Nigeria, is undergoing rapid and massive growth in cell phone and computer technology. Lagos, Nigeria is believed to be representative of developments rapidly taking place in other port cities of Africa

  • While no official figures exist, it is apparent that a very significant portion of this growth is fueled by the importation of second-hand equipment from rich developed countries. Experts stated that 500 containers of used computers come into the port of Lagos each month imported primarily from Europe and North America.

  • One aspect of this unprecedented growth is the presence of a very large, highly educated and well-trained but low-wage informal sector involved in repairing and refurbishing the used electronic equipment for local resale.

  • BAN was able to identify many of the exporters by institutional asset tags left on the equipment. Additionally BAN was able to extract private data from exported hard drive memory systems, raising questions about a new form of irresponsibility – privacy of information.

  • While some of the imported material is fully functional and is directly re-used, or can be repaired, there is nevertheless a significant quantity of the imported computer equipment or parts, (estimated by local experts variously between 25-75%) that is considered junk. That is, it is unmarketable due to either its lack of computing effectiveness, or due to the fact that it is un-economic to repair.

  • Because most of the exports/imports are not pre-tested for functionality, it is not possible to know whether these exports are legally defined as hazardous waste (ie. requiring disposal whole or in part, and being hazardous) under the Basel Convention. From a regulatory standpoint, diligent enforcement discretion would demand testing be performed prior to allowing export.

  • However as very significant quantities of this hazardous material has been observed as being dumped and burned, and none of the observed imports are being controlled under the Basel Convention either by the exporting or importing country, it is clear that many of these exports constitute illegal traffic under the Convention and is an affront to international environmental justice.

  • Not only is the Basel Convention being ignored in this regard, but a 1988 decree in Nigeria prohibiting all imports of hazardous wastes without special government authorization, and the Waste Shipment Regulation in the European Union banning export of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries, are not being properly implemented and enforced.

  • Lagos warehouses contain ample evidence of imported IT equipment which is too old or obsolete to be considered useful even in Nigeria and is not being sold but rather stockpiled.

  • Nigeria, indeed most African nations lack awareness of the dangers posed by e-waste, as well as any e-waste collection and recycling or disposal systems or programs.

  • Consequently, in Lagos, almost all of the discarded imported electronic waste is thrown into formal or informal dumpsites, all of which are unlined, unmonitored, close to the groundwater and routinely set afire.

  • As the dumped and burned electronic equipment contains toxic lead, cadmium, barium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants, and some of these chemicals become more hazardous when burned, the environmental and health impacts are of serious concern.

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