Who Pays the Price — The Human Cost of Electronics is a short film that seeks to humanise the largely hidden and anonymous global labour force that enables the ubiquitous technoculture, documenting the harsh conditions in which electronics are made and how this really impacts those people’s lives, and the environment. Toxic chemicals, plastics, and sweat-shop working conditions all contribute to the global machine that disseminates digital technologies, hidden in plain sight. Through direct footage of factory workers, interviews with them and analysis of the conditions, Who Pays the Price asks the question of the viewer, and as a call to action to stop the exploitation and toxification of people and the natural world.
China’s factories provide low cost products such as computers and cars to the rest of the world, but the real cost is high with heavy air pollution, contaminated waterways, decimated land, terrible working conditions, widespread cancer and incidences of deaths. China’s Dirty Secrets travels across the country to follow workers at factories that assemble computers, then to e-waste dumps, and finally an industrial incinerator burning medical waste, all showing first-hand the extensive environmental impacts of so-called “economic growth.”
For more then twenty years, many hundreds of tons of electronic waste—or e-waste—from all around the world has been transported to an infamous Chinese town called Fengjang, just south of Shanghai, for disposal and so-called ‘recycling.’ Around 50,000 migrant workers constitute part of the massive workforce necessary to dispose of e-waste, with the downcycling component of the operations involving cutting, splitting, and salvage—most-often with rudimentary equipment. The workers toil endlessly to process almost 2 million tons of garbage every year, bearing incredible precariousness, and even putting in danger their own health due to the simply unacceptable working conditions and also the toxic characteristics of the metals, chemicals and materials they’re handling. As the recognisable heaps of waste continue to pile up, Heavy Metal provides a moving image of a worldwide consumer society and the stark direct impacts of an ‘invisible’ waste.
Almost 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated worldwide, every year. A large volume of it is shipped off to Ghana, in West Africa, as “second-hand goods” where electronics are not seen for what they once where, but rather for what they’ve become. Without dialogue or narration, e-Wasteland presents a visual portrait of vast landscapes polluted by electronic waste, shining a light on the endless consumerism of the 1st world; and the real, pervasive, ecological impact of electronic waste worldwide.
For years now, the global economy has been exporting most of its wastes and dirty industries to the so-called third world. With this era of proliferation of technology and planned obsolescence, it’s no surprise that e-waste has taken over in these places too. Though while corporations claim that used TVs and computers are being safely recycled in Australia, the reality on the ground throughout Africa shows a very different story. This film travels to Ghana to see that a staggering amount of the world’s e-waste is ending up being burnt in open dumps with severe consequences. The waste creates an escalating and accumulating environmental and health nightmare. But not only this, the arrival of the waste in the first place breaks a myriad of laws and conventions that are supposed to be in place. e-Waste Hell documents this stark reality…
A group of graduate journalism students from the University of British Columbia travel to the outskirts of Ghana as part of a global investigation tracking the shadowy industry of e-waste that’s causing big environmental problems around the world. Their guide is a 13-year-old boy named Alex. He shows them his home, a small room in a mass of shanty dwellings, and offers to take them across the dead river—which is literally dead—to a notorious area called Agbogbloshie which is one of the world’s unseen e-waste dumping grounds. Hundreds of millions of tons of waste are funnelled here each year, with more to come as the consumer boom of computers and gadgets increases across the globe—unless drastic action changes the flow of waste and addresses the terrible conditions many have to endure for the technocracy of the West.
The Digital Dump — Exposing The Electronics Waste Trade travels to Lagos, Nigeria with the Executive Director of a global environmental organisation called BAN based in Seattle. The film is recorded over the course of 10 hectic days, during the week that Hurricane Katrina hit, documenting the reality of an escalating global trade in toxic, obsolete, discarded computers and other e-waste collected in North America and Europe. The waste is sent to countries like Nigeria by waste brokers and so-called recyclers. In Lagos, while there is some ability to repair and refurbish old electronic equipment, local experts explain that of the estimated 500 40-foot containers shipped to Lagos each month, as much as 75% of the imports are simply junk and are not economically repairable or marketable. Consequently, this e-waste is being discarded and routinely burned, despite the legal status of it as being hazardous materials.
This short film, put together by activists, documents the extreme proliferation of e-waste throughout Asia. The effects of the waste is catastrophic, as computers and electronics contain some of the most hazardous materials—cadmium, barium, plastics, mercury, lead, Brominated Flame Retardants and dioxins. Working at the nexus of human rights and environment, this film confronts the issues of environmental justice at a macro level, by provoking the need to stop this trade and address the issues. With over 80% of e-waste coming from the United States alone being exported throughout Asia, the problem is only to increase unless things change, especially in the age of planned obsolescence and consumer ‘upgrades.’