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Lagos, a city whose population is rapidly approaching 20 million, has a huge waste disposal problem. And, thanks to the monthly arrival of up to 500 shipping containers of waste from the US and Europe, the problem is getting worse. According to US environment group Basel Action Network, up to 75 per cent of the loads contain so-called e-waste – obsolete electronic items such as computers and TVs, often in the guise of ‘charitable donations’.

Although there is great demand for second-hand imported electronic goods in the city, the vast majority is discarded on arrival and ends up in dumpsites, where it is burnt. With some of the components containing hazardous substances, environmentalists are extremely concerned.

‘It is a very worrisome situation,’ says Leslie Adogame of the Nigerian Environmental Society. ‘People around the areas where the waste is burnt are suffering from chest-related diseases because they inhale a lot of noxious substances.’

Laws on safe disposal of electronic goods have been introduced in the US and Europe but continue to be flouted, despite campaigners’ efforts to ensure companies comply. The US Government recently proposed a new e-waste law which would allow US shippers legally to send waste anywhere in the world as long as it is labelled ‘recycling’.

New Internationalist issue 410 magazine cover This article is from the April 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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