Archivo de la etiqueta: medio ambiente

E-waste inferno burning brighter in China’s recycling capital

E-waste inferno burning brighter in China s recycling capital
E-waste inferno burning brighter in China’s recycling capital

Guiyu (China) (AFP) – Mountains of discarded remote controls litter the warehouse floor. In a dimly-lit room, women on plastic stools pry open the devices, as if shucking oysters, to retrieve the circuitry inside.

In a narrow alley a few blocks over, a father and son from a distant province wash microchips in plastic buckets. Men haul old telephones and computer keyboards by the shovelful off a truck.

Some items will be refurbished and resold, others will be stripped for components or materials such as copper or gold.

Business is booming in the Chinese town of Guiyu, where the world’s electronic waste ends up for recycling — and is set to get even better.

But the industry has a heavy environmental cost. Electronic remnants are strewn in a nearby stream, and the air is acrid from the burning of plastic, chemicals and circuitboards.

Heavy metal contamination has turned the air and water toxic, and children have high lead levels in their blood, according to an August study by researchers at Shantou University Medical College.

Much of the e-waste that passed through Guiyu over the past few decades came from outside China.

Western countries are now making a greater effort to process their own e-waste, but Chinese domestic supply will soon be more than enough to step into any breach, campaigners say.

China’s surging economy has transformed the country into a consuming power in its own right — it is now the world’s largest smartphone market — and use of electronic devices has soared.

“Before, the waste was shipped from other parts of the world coming into China — that used to be the biggest source and the biggest problem,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, one of China’s foremost environmental NGOs.

“But now, China has become a consuming power of its own,” Ma said. “We have I think 1.1 billion cell phones used, and the life of our gadgets has become shorter and shorter.”

“I think the wave is coming,” he added. “It’s going to be a bigger problem.”

– ‘This cannot be allowed to go on’ –

China currently generates 6.1 million metric tonnes of e-waste a year, compared with 7.2 million for the US and 48.8 million globally, according to the United Nations University’s Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative.

But while US e-waste production has increased by 13 percent over the past five years, China’s has nearly doubled, setting the Asian giant on track to overtake the US as the world’s biggest source as early as 2017.

Nowhere are the profit and environmental toll of e-waste recycling more on display than in Guiyu in the southern province of Guangdong, where some 80,000 of 130,000 residents work in the loosely-regulated industry, according to a 2012 local government estimate.

More than 1.6 million tonnes of e-waste pass through Guiyu each year, with recycling worth 3.7 billion yuan ($600 million) annually and attracting migrants from near and far.

“This work is tiring, but the salary is okay compared with the work in town,” said a 30-year-old surnamed Ma, who left a salesman’s job to dismantle electronics. “You can make 4,000 or 5,000 yuan ($650 to $815) a month.”

At the same time, the town has made worldwide headlines for the devastating health impact of its tainted environment.

“People think this cannot be allowed to go on,” said Leo Chen, 28, a financial worker who grew up in Guiyu.

The situation was better than a decade ago, he said, following authorities’ interventions, but the effects of years of pollution remain.

“In my memory, in front of my house, there was a river. It was green, and the water was very nice and clear,” he said. “Now, it’s black.”

– ‘Morally complicated’ –

Lai Yun, a Greenpeace researcher who has often visited Guiyu, said that while Beijing has tightened regulations enforcement is often lax, and the bottom line is that development cannot be obstructed.

“From the government’s perspective, e-waste gathering and processing is important for the local economy,” Lai said. “Research has shown that 80 percent of households are involved in this work. So, if they don’t expand this industry, these residents will need some other kind of employment.”

Central authorities including China’s powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) have invested heavily in Guiyu’s recycling industry, pointed out Adam Minter, author of “Junkyard Planet”, on the economics of the global scrap industry.

The overall picture was mixed, he said.

“There is an environmental good happening there — they’re extending the life span of usable components, they’re pulling things out and recycling them, or sending them to Korea and Japan, something that’s very expensive to do in the US and the EU,” he said.

“Yet they do it in a way that’s not always good for human health and the environment,” he added. “Recycling is a morally complicated act.”

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The Internet of Things Could Drown Our Environment in Gadgets

Illustration: Getty

The pitch is that the Internet of Things will make our world a greener place. Environmental sensors can detect pollution, the voices say. Smart thermostats can help us save money on our electric bills. A new breed of agriculture tech can save water by giving crops exactly the amount they need and no more.But this vast network of new online devices could also end up harming the environment. Manufacturing all those gadgets means expending both energy and raw materials. In many cases, they will replace an older breed of devices, which will need to be disposed of (so long, non-smart thermostat). And eventually, every IoT device you buy–and people are predicting there will be hundreds of thousands–will need to be retired too. Since all these devices will connect to the net, we should even consider the energy used by the data centers that drive them.

“The Internet of Things, for us, is a way for people to get reconnected with where their energy comes from,” says Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook. “But it could also drive more consumption, which won’t help us.”

None of these problems are insurmountable. But with more networked devices being released everyday, it’s time to start thinking about what the real environmental impact of these devices will be–and how we can minimize it.

Shrinking the Footprint

Earlier this year, Nest claimed on its company blog that it takes only eight weeks for its thermostat to save enough energy to become carbon neutral, based on the amount of energy it takes to manufacture and distribute devices. That’s a good return on investment, but the Nest thermostat is specifically designed to save energy. Other products–such as fitness trackers, kitchen appliances, and home security systems–may have heavier footprints.

In many cases, the companies that make and sell electronics don’t know how much energy they’re using.

The problem, Cook says, is that it’s hard–if not impossible–for consumers to get a sense of the lifetime environmental impact of any given product. There just aren’t enough standards and certification bodies to provide accurate information. RoHs labels provide assurances about the amounts of toxic materials like cadmium and lead used in a product, and Energy Star can give you an idea of a product’s energy efficiency. But neither label gives you much insight into the manufacturing process or the overall lifecycle of a product. In many cases, the companies that make and sell electronics don’t know how much energy they’re using, since many components that go into a product are manufactured by other companies entirely.

Greenpeace is trying to help out in this regard with its Cool IT Challenge campaign to encourage companies not just to change their own practices but to use their influence to drive change in the industry. The campaign also includes a leaderboard that ranks how well companies are doing. “We’ve been evaluating companies both on their use of toxic chemicals in their products and how they use energy,” Cooks says. “Something we were trying to measure in the leaderboard is how much homework companies are doing.”

Perhaps the biggest environmental issue regarding network connected devices is the amount of energy used by the servers they connect to. Although big data center operators try to use as little electricity as possible–and there are more products than ever available to help these companies bring their power bills down–Cook says it’s about more than just using less energy. Companies need to be using clean energy as well.

In recent years, many major cloud companies–including Google, Rackspace, and Salesforce–have disclosed their energy usage information and pledged to eventually power their data centers exclusively with renewable energy. But Amazon, the largest cloud computing provider in the U.S., hasn’t cooperated by releasing data about its environmental impact. That worries Cook. “If Amazon doesn’t pivot to take the challenge as seriously as Google, Apple and Microsoft, it could lower the floor for everyone,” he says.

Long Lifespans, Please

But we also have to worry about all these devices being dumped into the landfill. Many communities have companies or non-profit organizations that recycle electronic waste. But it would be better if the devices had long lifespans. That’s a tall order in the era of planned obsolescence. Companies want you to buy new versions of their products every few years, or perhaps more often.

It’s inevitable though that some products are going to end up in the landfill, so it’s important to make sure they do as little harm as possible once they’re there.

Adding more smarts and a network connection to devices means that companies can more easily sell software upgrades to customers, instead of entirely new devices. That could help extend the lifespan of products–at least for companies willing to support older devices. But the fact of the matter is that many companies will cut devices loose after a while. Dan Geer, chief security officer at the Central Intelligence Agency’s venture firm, In-Q-Tel, is encouraging IoT companies to build a “self-destruct” function into devices so that older devices, which are more likely to have un-patched security issues, can’t be used after a certain date.

That means open source software will be extremely important for keeping connected devices going and out of landfill, says Michael Richardson, the co-chair of an Internet Engineering Task Force work group standardizing wireless networking for the IoT. If devices use open source code, the broader community of developers can help keep them going. “If an IoT device is not running open source, it means that as soon as someone comes up with a security problem, it’s going in the trash because major companies aren’t going to want to upgrade lightbulbs,” he says. “It’s going to end up creating more waste, more garbage.”

But it’s inevitable that some products are going to end up in the landfill, so it’s important to make sure they do as little harm as possible once they’re there. Adam Dunkels, the co-founder of Thingsquare, a cloud service for IoT developers, says one of the most important things that companies developing IoT products can do is to avoid using disposable batteries, to reduce the size of the batteries that the devices use, or even possibly create new types of batteries that are less toxic.

The Net Good

In the end, Dunkels thinks that the IoT will be a net benefit for the environment. “If you’re attaching a sensor to something that allows you to inspect this thing from afar, then you don’t need to go see it, so you don’t need to drive a car to get there,” he says. “So you spend some energy in a data center, but you don’t have to use the car ride for that.”

He also points out that the biggest potential for the IoT isn’t consumer devices, but for industrial automation, building automation, traffic light control, and other less visible but highly important applications that will ultimately save electricity.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the other problems. Companies that are promising a new, connected future must o do more to ensure this future is a sustainable one. And that’s going to mean releasing more information to the public–at the very least.

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e-waste recycling turns water, soil toxic

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

Extremely high levels of heavy metals found in samples from Loni and Mandoli

Lab testing of soil and water samples from the Loni and Mandoli areas of Delhi reveals high contamination of both with heavy metals and other impurities. Shockingly, even the drinking water at both the locations contained high amount of toxic metals.

The report, “Impact of e-waste Recycling on Water and Soil”, released on Monday by non-government organisation Toxics Link, revealed that toxic elements including mercury, lead, zinc, along with acids and chemicals are released during e-waste recycling and are contaminating soil and water in the surrounding areas.

“Our neighbourhoods are at great risk of being permanently damaged by toxins from e-waste,” noted the study.

At Loni, some water samples reveal mercury level as high as 20 times the prescribed limit, while at Mandoli zinc level in a sample was 174 times higher. “Increased amount of toxic elements are a clear indicator that water at both the places is not fit for drinking. Toxic metals such as lead and zinc slowly damage vital organs and also reduce the IQs and understanding capabilities of children,” said Dr. Prashant Rajankar, programme coordinator, Toxics Link.

The findings also show lead level in soil at Loni to be very high, with one sample as high as 147 times the prescribed limit. The findings at Mandoli were equally shocking with lead level in one of the samples being 102 times higher than the prescribed limit. The study findings also establish release of heavy metals and other contaminants from recycling units at both locations.

Loni and Mandoli are simply two examples from the vast number of such crude recycling units operating in Delhi and across India.

Presently, around 2.7 million tonnes of e-waste is generated every year and reports suggest that almost 90 per cent of this waste is being recycled in the informal sector in and around large cities.

To manage such toxics, “e-waste (management and handling) rules-2011” is currently operational. It puts the onus of e-waste disposal onto the producers of such goods and instructs the State Pollution Control Board to monitor the implementation.

“In spite of the rules, we find piles of e-wastes and a number of recycling units operating in Delhi and at other places. Rather than simply closing them down, the government agencies need to come up with more effective measures,” said Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link.

The report is among the few in India that scientifically corroborate damage to soil and water through toxics from e-waste. Besides providing data on increased levels of zinc, lead and other toxic elements and chemicals, the study also scientifically examines electrical conductivity, hardness and turbidity in the selected samples of Mandoli and Loni.

“There are only few scientific reports like this one. We hope it will trigger more such studies in other parts of the country and eventually the government will come up with better guidelines and push for stricter implementation of e-waste rules,” said Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link.

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Repairing (electronic) vulnerabilities: towards an Ethics of e-waste.

This is my presentation at the research seminar “When all that is high tech turns into waste”.

You can read it here: presentation blanca_ewaste seminar2


Repairing (electronic) vulnerabilities: towards an Ethics of e-waste.


I’d like to start my presentation reading you a news.

Recent chemical analyses on rice imported from China and Taiwan to the USA have found lead levels 12 times higher that the ‘tolerable’ maximum dictated by the US Food and Drug Administration. Investigations revealed that farmers irrigate their rice crops with sewage water outflow from industry, and the contamination derived from the irregular treatment of e-waste aggravates the problem.

It means that the well-known illegal exportation of e-waste and its polluting and highly contaminating effects on land, health and bodies in countries far from Europe is not a one-way trip.

* But what all these trajectories also reveal is that we live in a deep, problematic, but ignored interdependence with others. We become the contaminated rice that we eat, and this rice embodies the obsolete computer that we threw away.

In this sense, I suggest that e-waste works as a critical standpoint and explanatory operator through which to make visible, analyse and comprehend our modes of existence and the everyday bonds that weave our life in common.

In the face of the ‘naturalized’ growth and ‘dematerialized’ technologies that commercials use to suggest, I want to present some informal repairing practices around e-waste that confront us with failures, obsolescence, breakages and filth. Somehow, all the following practices re-materialize electronics and problematize certain notions of autonomy, progress or socio-technical innovation by bringing dirt to the surface and revealing unsustainable patterns of consumption, material and environmental damages of global capitalism, visible/invisible labour and workers’ bodies, uneven distribution of resources and responsibilities, or a limited knowledge of our own technological environments.

3.- Repair as care?

* But then, how to host all this vulnerability and fragility as our inevitable ontology but also as a condition of possibility and an arena to be politicized? (López Gil, 2013). How to raise supporting linkages for a sustainable life that considers these uneven material conditions and the ambivalence of the interdependence with alterity, between diverse natural-cultural elements?

All these questions point to a wider concern about ethics of care (for matter): how to raise ethical engagements by and within ‘others’, vis-a-vis our finite and limited material world? If we define care as “everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair ‘our world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible” (Tronto, 1993:103), then what can we learn from the following repairing practices in order to live in this world (as well as possible)?

* Combining works on repair and maintenance, specially the ‘broken world thinking’ proposed by Jackson (2013), with feminist readings of economy/ecology and care, we will try to answer these questions by exploring some informal ‘repairing’ activities of e-waste as care (for matter) practices. In this sense, we propose to essay and imagine an empirical ethics of/from e-waste. **Multi-focus ethnographic fieldwork with a group of informal immigrant waste pickers; Obsoletos, a hacking and makers’ project and Cyclicka-Labdoo, a learning repair workshop, supply the situated experiences for our analysis.

* FINDING / RECOVERY or “This is not waste”

* All the observed practices start with an initial moment of collecting others’ waste (Thompson, 1979). “I’ve never admitted the word ‘rubbish’”, a waste-picker from Barcelona says, “all has been found in the street and has some value”. In many cases, working with waste does not respond to an ecological interest or concern but to a practical sense of economy and resources. “How can they throw this computer out? … you are being a bit silly because you could make the most of it, you know?” said one of the ‘makers’. For waste-pickers in particular, this act requires defying legalities, as “the selection and extraction of waste placed in the public thoroughfare” is considered as a minor infraction that is fined up to 450,76€.

Collecting waste involves chance, the luck of a find, but it also requires skilled recognition, addressing one’s attention to the margins. This combination involves embodied knowledge developed through repeated immersions in the environment, like the repeated wandering of the waste-pickers. As a result, they develop a ‘skilled vision’, a trained looking background that makes signs meaningful, in their case, in the shape of metal materials and components.

But the relevance of recovering and collecting does not lie only in recognition but also in virtual transformation, because what seemed definitively ended might be different: ‘the commitment to care can be a speculative effort to think how things could be different’, as Puig de la Bellacasa states. Then, this is just the beginning of a process of contesting predefined ontologies and objects: a waste-computer stops being a single object determined by its final disposal.

* Collection and recovery seems to ask us about what is neglected or overlooked, about what we forget and leave aside, or about what fails. In this sense, in caring terms, an attentive and responsive turn towards what is behind us could be named ‘responsibility’ or ‘responsiveness’, a kind of sensitive reaction towards those devalued or discarded stuff, be it waste or ‘human waste’. As feminist theorists have argued, these attentive and caring but devalued ordinary practices, like removal and collection of waste, have been usually accomplished by also the most devalued, invisible, marginalised, feminised and racial ‘others’.

* From repair to hack

* Both Cyclicla and Obsoletos taught courses and ran workshops on repairing and mounting old computers. Also, those computers found by informal waste-pickers that apparently work are sent to second-hand markets in their countries of origin in Africa to be repaired and sold again. One of the waste-pickers explained that: ‘Everything is mended in Africa, but not in Europe. Here you just change the pieces because there is more money and spares’. Here, just “break, throw, buy another”.

Despite these differences, any of these repairs and refurbishments start with an ongoing and situated inquiry, a trial and error method. Through ‘exploratory action’ and guided by ‘symptoms’ and signals, such as different sounds, they isolate the failure and replace the damaged piece with a reused one extracted from another obsolete computer. As some participants explained, repairing and refurbishing obsolete computers is about making the most of our material resources and potential, including knowledge, skills and competences: ‘that’s why you bought it’, they said. Yet, there were no duties to do it, nor ecological or moral explanations: just use, exploitation and affective reasons because, according to some participants, ‘the more you get attached to something, the more you extend its life cycle’.

* These repair practices reveal that a recovered computer cannot be considered as a closed piece or a ready-to-consume object with a unique function anymore. Repair is achieved by daring to open up the objects and defying their unity/singularity through skilled embodied labour. In this sense, they do not intervene or care for material objects but for ‘systems’, as one said: an assemblage composed of different interdependent and co-functioning heterogeneous elements.

But these repairers also care for (and are cared for by) wider and more complex systems: those repair ecologies that daily and mutually link repairers and devices through affective and lasting attachments, as they mentioned before. Then, repair as care is not a dyadic nor individualistic activity but a more complex and networked one.

Following this progression, in some cases, the repair of obsolete computers pass the blurring limits of a mere refurbishment of their original functions and enters into hacking and making actions. This way, ‘what starts out as repair may soon become improvement, innovation, even growth’ as Henke says. Obsoletos define hacking as ‘the experimental modification of systems for creative reasons or for obtaining advantages’. It is about knowing enough the rules to break them creatively. This way, when they have an idea or project to make, they try it, expand it, or ‘combine things with things until something functional comes up’.

* Unlike with the previous repairing moment, caring as hacking doesn’t have to do with the stabilisation of an order, the restoration of an object, the preservation of a function or the conservation of something about to disappear. There is nothing to preserve or an order to observe. Instead, hacking points to repair and care as the experimental transformation of materials, shapes or functions until solving a problem or creating a new ‘system’. In this sense, there is not a singular or correct way of caring but many.

Repair and hack ‘occur’ ‘through the continual sensory attunement of the practitioner’s movements to the inherent rhythmicity of those components of the environment with which he or she is engaged’. Then, it is impossible to normalise care since a central aspect of maintenance and repair draws on situated watchfulness and sensitive and ongoing attention. Improvisation and continual adaptation is required and all the repairs, but especially hacks (because of its experimental nature) overwhelm any kind of standardised procedures. The final hack is then the result of a mutual, dialogical and ongoing sensual and situated enquiry, a process of ‘needs interpretation’ and mutual adaptation between all the heterogenous components in play, until a fulfilling but precarious ‘compromise’ is found.

* DESTROYING / TAKING APART or scrapping politics

* Judging by its destructive character, the last practice might seem counter-intuitive when talking about repair. We refer to taking apart old computers or other electronic devices in order to turn them into scrap, in the shape of ferrous materials, copper, brass or aluminium, as the group of informal waste-pickers in Barcelona do. They sell what they find to bigger scrap-traders, who sell them in turn to foundries. As most do not have the knowledge or resources to repair and need to extract value from their finds quickly, they smash or cannibalise those computers that appear not to work and cannot be sold entire. For every find, they make a very quick and accurate calculation of how to extract the most (monetary) value. To dismantle it they need to know how and where to open, to locate the components and to know the materials they are made of. It is important to act quickly and cleanly as a bad opening or a blow in the wrong place could make the extraction of materials much more difficult. As one waste-picker noted, ‘you never know what you might find inside’. In the case of computers, the work is straightforward due to their similarity. The most precious piece is the transformer, because it contains most copper; then the hard disk, either for its aluminium or for resale; then small pieces of copper that are welded to the motherboard.

* What this practice firstly shows about repair as care is that caring has limits, that it is not intrinsically good or rather that its adequacy and form is something contextual: to be defined in each specific situation. In this case, the need for money to earn a living for illegal informal waste-pickers makes them prioritise destruction over repair. To moralise care and treat it as if it was good in itself or to essentialise it, as if it had a predefined content and form, would be dangerous. Why should we prefer the repair of a computer over its destruction? Whilst these practices could be interpreted as neglectful and utilitarian towards others (goods), there might also be a particular ethics of care to the environment and to sustaining oneself through dismantling and recycling components that will be sold and reintroduced into the manufacturing chain. In this case, repair might also be destruction, or something’s destruction might be another’s repair.

A focus on preservation and material durability that rejected any limit for repair and condemned any kind of destruction would then create new dependencies and dominations. An attempt to compensate an anthropocentrism that has neglected resources and nature for such a long time is then symmetrically failed by an object fetishism that looks for keeping things alive at all costs. However, the idealisation and universalisation of repair as care might hide other inequalities and coercions: such as the subordinated positions and bodies of those who cannot access repair technologies and knowledges and depend on waste to survive.

In every case and situation we need to ask: what does care mean? For whom? What can we care for, and what not? Whose matter and life is being maintained and repaired? Whose is not? As Tronto (1993: XX) notes, “a theory of care (particular) is incomplete unless it is embedded in a theory of justice (universal) as well. But justice without a notion of care is incomplete”. In other words, ethics and politics cannot be divorced. More specifically, electronic waste is not the only material problem or negligence in the electronics industry, but we should include those subjugated and neglected people, matters and bodies whose caring but invisible labour sustains the capitalist system by sweeping away the wasteful but hidden effects of production and accumulation.

* Conclusions: towards an Ethics from/of e-waste

* Considering these limits, we cannot continue to understand durability and stability as good forms of care ‘per se’, neither being desirable conditions for every entity, object or matter. The response to obsolescence and waste – as structural inequalities produced by the economic productive system – is not merely more durability and stability through reparation, but sustainability of the heterogeneous systems and ‘ecologies of practices’ that they are part of. In this sense, an ethics of/from e-waste that pursues sustainability of life needs to be based in an ‘ecological logic of care’. This might in fact be based on (more or better) reparability, but it needs to be deduced within and from situated, critical and multi-layered political analysis that connects the conditions of reparability with fairer and more integrative systems of design, production, distribution, consumption or treatment. Otherwise, as happens with the mercantilisation of care services, repair and maintenance could be easily subsumed by the productive and accumulative logic of capitalism as trendy profitable markets to be exploited, without having changed any of their structural inequalities.

* The particular ethics of care that has been sketched through this analysis is not about specific practices (as moral recipes), nor about determined entities, but about the interdependent ambivalent embodied relationships with some naturecultural ‘others’. This, then, is an empirical ethics grounded in heterogeneity and commonalities among different singularities: the common but different damages that intimately connect computers-water-rice-bodies in a continuous transnational economic and ecological chain. Nevertheless, as feminist care ethics remind us, relationality and interdependence does not mean equality. Care is never done between equals and autonomous agents and it is impossible to void differences, conflicts or dissent. We cannot possibly care for everything. ** However we have proposed that repair or other ‘care for matter’ practices might be taken as practical epistemic and political repertoires pointing at matters that, despite remaining usually hidden, are still crucial and necessary for the fragile continuity of our common socio-material worlds. Thinking with care, as Puig de la Bellacasa proposes, means asking ‘How do we build caring relationships while recognising divergent positions?’.

* The three observed repairing gestures suggest a collective responsibility not reducible to individual ethics or wishful gestures, as they point to a structural injustice that concerns all of us. Following our initial example, we all – people, water, soils and crops – are involved in, networked and affected by the same economic ‘wasting system’. Also, these practices call for careful profiting from collective resources, competences and knowledges in favour of the reparability (as sustainability) of matter. This problematises the productive and accumulation logics inside capitalism and enables a greater and empowering autonomy from markets by partially disconnecting well-being from consumption. Nevertheless, this might only be possible if we proceed through a multi-layered, non-innocent and situated analyses of the plural meanings of care and the differential distribution of damages, vulnerabilities, strength and support. Then, more than to mere durability, reparability refers to the ways we provide mutual and heterogenous support for dealing with and getting over daily difficulties and inevitable wears. Finally, the experimental and creative character of repair (especially hacking) brings to the fore the innovative and transformative component of care, which contests the false dichotomy between productive (progress) and reproductive (maintenance) spheres and labours.

* I contend that the greatest value of this ‘caring’ reading of repairing e-waste is that it allows us to connect very intimately the economic, ecological and ethico-political dimensions of life. From a feminist economy perspective, as Pérez Orozco notes: ‘injustices of redistribution (of material resources) and recognition (of subaltern identities) feedback each other’. This particular ethics of care (for matter) attempts to understand how we can collectively sustain ourselves and satisfy our interdependent needs through the use, treatment, organisation and distribution of vulnerable matter and finite resources, such as technology, in a fairer and less painful way.

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Agbogbloshie: the world’s largest e-waste dump – in pictures

Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s

Adam Nasara, 25, uses Styropor, an insulating material from refrigerators, to light a fire
Adam Nasara, 25, uses Styropor, an insulating material from refrigerators, to light a fire
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