530 pounds of chemicals, 48 pounds of fossil fuels and 1 ton of water are used to produce 1 computer.
The US recycles less than 20% of its electronic waste. Most of the other 80% is dumped in countries like Ghana where they do not have laws like the US against electronic waste dumping. Residents in the U.S. are told to donate their old computers to less fortunate countries. In reality, most of the old computers are unusable and end up at a dumping site.
The documentary “Terra Blight” explores the world of the United States’ electronic waste. Directed and produced by Isaac Brown with help from Ana Paula Habib, Terra Blight was filmed to raise awareness about this issue.
“We really wanted to do a film about American waste, but we wanted to find something we take for granted,” Brown said in response to why they chose to document US electronic waste.
Adults and even children in Ghana work as metal scavengers, searching for precious metals such as copper in the dump sites. The scavengers must break the computers apart, using rocks or other computer parts because they don’t have proper tools. They burn the computer cords to separate the copper from the plastic cord covers.
Because they do not have protective clothing or shoes, workers usually get cut by the sharp edges of broken computer parts. One child in the film who started working there when he was six years old, wore flip flops while smashing computers and casually walked through the dumpsite. He cut his foot, and while seeking medical attention, he was told that he could not be treated at the moment because the medical staff lacked proper supplies.
This boy worked as a metal scavenger to pay for his education. His mother agrees that it is dangerous work, but she says it’s the only way he can pay for school.
Another problem with working at the dump site is the influence of the other workers. An older worker said many of the older workers started when they were young to pay for school, but continued working instead of attending school because they liked earning the money. Still, the wage they earn at the dumpsite is not enough for their future support.
The film also includes opinions from people living in Endicott, New York, where IBM had a major chemical spill. The chemicals seeped into the water supply in Endicott and caused cancer and other health complications.
“Nationally, we are a hidden chemical timebomb,” said one Endicott resident.
To contrast with the harmful effects of electronic waste, the film explores average citizens who attend gaming conventions. Thousands of people gather with their computers to play video games together. These people, for the most part, are constantly updating their electronics to achieve the best gaming experience. They probably have no idea of the impact their electronic waste has on countries like Ghana.
“Terra Blight” profiles a company called Creative Recycling that recycles every part of discarded computers. It’s just more expensive than many companies want to pay for.
“The biggest reaction we get is people are surprised,” Brown said. Brown and Habib are currently on a National Tour for the film with Columbia being the halfway point.
“We made the film for you, the consumer,” Habib said. “The biggest activists we are trying to partner with are the audience…to get the problem on people’s radars.” Although residents in Columbia cannot do anything directly to address this issue, the filmmakers said awareness is key and to think before buying new electronic devices.