It costs ten times as much to sustainably recycle a PC than to send it to a dumpster in Africa, write researchers Giorgio Griziotti and Gianluca Giannelli. The math explains why electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing source of refuse in the world. It’s also why photographer Valentino Bellini started his project “Bit Rot” in Ghana, where he first saw young men in massive landfills taking apart computers once used by US government employees. But the story stretches far beyond Africa. After visiting the somewhat more sustainable recycling facilities of India and Pakistan, Bellini traveled to Guiyu, China, the world’s largest e-waste dumpsite, where the poisons of electronic trash are leaching into the soil. As he prepares for a new chapter that will look into the mafia’s role in toxic waste management, he joined R&K from his home country of Italy.
Roads & Kingdoms: Can you define e-waste for us?
Valentino Bellini: E-waste stands for electronic and electric waste. That includes various things, from large household appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners to cellular phones and stereos, as well as spare parts, such as electric wires or computer fans. E-waste is today the main waste flow in the world, with an annual volume that goes from 40 to 50 million tons. This flow is growing faster than any other type of waste. According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Program, it could grow as much as 500 times by 2020/2025, especially in some developing countries where the IT industry is booming, like China and India.