Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable): Political Economy
Globalization has caused widespread integration of goods, services, information, people and more. Globalization creates both benefits and challenges for individuals and governments. An individual may benefit from low priced goods and the cheap disposal of waste while also facing the challenge of losing their job to outsourcing or being exposed to hazardous chemicals. Globally, the rate of the production of waste is growing, necessitating a place for its disposal. There are many different types of waste, including municipal solid waste, agricultural waste, radioactive waste, and hazardous waste. In my area of interest, I will focus on electronic waste (e-waste), a type of hazardous waste, because it is particularly harmful to human health and the environment and it has been identified as the fastest growing waste stream in the world (Hossain 2015). In our globalized world, new electronics are constantly produced at a faster rate. Consumers discard these electronics at the slightest inconvenience or even when they become outdated by the development of a new model (Ahmed 2016). This culture of fast and convenient consumption creates vast amounts of electronic waste.
The production, consumption, and disposal of electronic waste crosses national boundaries and can therefore be characterized as a global supply chain. International regulation of the transportation of e-waste is difficult to enforce. Brandi (2019) discusses the difficulty of enforcing international policies and the differential incentives faced by low-income and high-income countries to comply. The United Nations serves as an international governing body through which countries can make agreements. The 1989 Basel Convention is one such agreement. The Basel Convention holds its parties accountable for minimizing the transportation of waste and ensuring the disposal of waste in an “environmentally sound manner” (United Nations 2011). Unfortunately, the Basel Convention has its weaknesses. The convention can hold only ratifying countries accountable and contains ambiguous language, making it difficult to enforce (Clapp 2001). These weaknesses enable high-income countries to continue to ship their waste to low-income countries who disproportionately face the environmental and health consequences produced by waste (Lubick 2012).
The international transport of waste began in the 1970s due to economic globalization and the increased regulation of waste disposal in wealthy countries caused by emerging environmental concerns such as that of the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) movement (Clapp 2001). This movement consisted of some who wanted to get rid of all toxic waste and some who merely did not want it in their own backyard. Despite the sentiments of the prior group, the increased regulation that was created in wealthy countries created an economic incentive to export waste to poor countries where there are less stringent regulations (Clapp 2001). Once e-waste arrives in the importing country, it is usually transported illegally. In Nigeria, shippers oftentimes have empty space in the transport vehicles they use to illegally transport e-waste for a profit, and as a result, accurate data of the amount of e-waste imported to the country is difficult to determine (“Thousands of Tons” 2018, 507). Most of the e-waste from Europe and the US is exported to countries in Africa, specifically Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria (Lubick 2012). Studies conducted in 2015 and 2016 revealed that 71000 metric tons of electronic waste were imported annually into Nigeria, 85% percent of which came from Germany, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, China, the US, and Ireland (Balde et al. 2017). The amount of e-waste exported to poor countries is likely an underestimate due to the lack of accurate data on the final location of 80% of e-waste (Balde et al. 2017).
E-waste contains hazardous chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment (Hossain 2015). When e-waste is burned, it releases gases that can be harmful to humans and the environment. These toxic metals and gases contaminate the soil, air, and water surrounding an e-waste dumping center (Hossain 2015). Even if children are not directly handling the e-waste, they are at risk of exposure from the polluted environment (Heacock et al. 2016). Children are especially at risk of receiving a higher dose of these toxic chemicals because children consume more food and water in proportion to their body weight than adults (Heacock et al. 2016). In Ghana, traces of toxic chemicals from the burning of e-waste have been found in breast milk (Lubick 2012). These toxic chemicals produce a variety of health consequences, including reproductive dysfunction, lung disease, neurological damage, immune system suppression, and cancer, among others (Clapp 2001).
The issue of e-waste creates policy and development implications. Individuals dealing with e-waste are exposed to toxic waste due to weak regulations (Amankwah-Amoah 2016). High-income countries such as the US, Japan, and much of Europe are the main producers of e-waste and continue to export it despite the lack of policies and infrastructure to deal with waste effectively in low-income countries (Hossain 2015). Lubick (2012) explains that there are not enough capital resources to introduce safer recycling technologies to these countries. E-waste provides needed income for many individuals because it contains valuable materials, including rare earth metals, iron, and copper (Heacock et al. 2016). Despite the economic incentive, only 15% of e-waste is fully recycled (Heacock et al. 2016).
In Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective, the author illustrates the exploitation of migrants in Thailand that produces the abundance of low priced fish consumed by the West (Kara 2017). A woman who managed a safe house for migrants expressed the sentiment that consumers should be aware of the supply chains of the products they consume (Kara 2017, 230). In the case of e-waste, consumers have a role in the global supply chain of electronics that places the health of individuals at risk. Various parts of the supply chain are to blame: the consumer culture of constantly needing new technology, producers supplying consumers with products that have built-in obsolescence, encouraging the wasteful practice of throwing out the old when the new is made available, and governments lacking regulation of labor rights and supply chains.
- How does the international market for e-waste influence the use of child labor in the handling of e-waste?
- What are the barriers to implementing regulations surrounding the import and handling of e-waste in importing countries?
- Why is it still economically beneficial to import e-waste despite the high risk of negative health effects it imposes?
- Why has globalization been accompanied by growing consumer demand for new technology and as a result, growing amounts of waste?
- Are certain socioeconomic groups within waste-importing countries benefiting more from the illegal trade of e-waste than others? If so, which groups are they and why do they benefit more?
- Are certain individuals involved in the process of recycling e-waste more knowledgeable about the health effects of e-waste than others? If so, who are they are why are they more knowledgeable?
- On what basis should the burden of electronic waste be distributed: economic efficiency, health risk, or the ability to pay for proper disposal? Why?
- How can high-income countries be incentivized to deal with e-waste in a less harmful way that does not involve exporting waste to low-income countries?
- Can the consumption of technology continue without producing vast amounts of electronic waste? If so, how?
- How can low-income countries manage the tradeoffs between the needed income that individuals receive from recycling e-waste and the negative health effects it produces?
- How can consumers be incentivized to change their consumption habits for the purpose of reducing e-waste?
- IA 350 (Social Justice in the Global Economy) Spring 2022. I will examine issues of social justice, environmental sustainability, and fair trade within the context of the international political economy.
- ECON 232 (Economic Development) Fall 2020. I will examine poverty and inequality on an international level, along with strategies for development.
- ENVS 460 (Topics in Environmental Law and Policy) Fall 2021. I will study environmental law and policy in order to understand environmental topics from a perspective of law and policy.
- ECON 312 (Global Health Economics) Fall 2021. I will look at health economics, global health systems, and the demand for health care from a global perspective.
- IA 257 (Global Resource Dilemmas) Spring 2022. I will look at the global controversies regarding resource and environmental issues.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: CHEM 100, GEOL 170, ECON 260, IA 340, ENG 235, HIST 261. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Revisions to date
- March 31st, 2020: My faculty consultant, International Affairs Professor Elizabeth Bennett, helped me understand that globalization does not necessarily have to be linked to extreme consumption of technology, which brought me to the question of why these trends are linked in this way. Professor Bennet suggested that I look at globalization as not dividing people into winners and losers, but as confronting each individual and government with gains and challenges. She also encouraged me to expand on the inability of the Basel Convention to enforce and how this might be an intentional weakness of the convention. She suggested that I expand on the NIMBY movement and how there were two factions that differed on their approach to the issue of waste. Professor Bennett also guided me to look closely at the consumer level and governmental level of the supply and consumption of electronics.
- March 31st, 2020: I changed the title from “implications of electronic waste in a globalized world” to “electronic waste in a globalized world.” I added examples of positive and negative effects of globalization and added categorization of types of waste. I added interdisciplinarity details specifically regarding health effects and children. I added more details about the Thai Fishing Industry and the broader context that it illuminates.
- April 1st, 2020: I added a question about the link between globalization and consumption. I changed the wording of the “positive” and “negative” effects of globalization to the “benefits” and “challenges” faced by a single individual. I expanded on differing views within the NIMBY movement. I added details regarding the consumer level and governmental level of the supply and consumption of electronics (last paragraph). I cut down the word count so as to stay under the 1000 word limit.
- Ahmed, Syed Faraz. 2016. “The Global Cost of Electronic Waste.” The Atlantic
- Amankwah-Amoah J. 2016. “Global Business and Emerging Economies: Towards a New Perspective on the Effects of E-waste.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 105: 20-26 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2016.01.026
- Balde, C. P., Forti, V., Gray, V., Kuehr, R., Stegmann, P. 2017. The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 Quantities, Flows, and Resources (International Telecommunication Union 2017).
- Brandi, Clara et al. 2019. “When do international treaties matter for domestic environmental
legislation?” Global Environmental Politics https://doi.org/10.1162/glep_a_00524
- Clapp, Jennifer. 2001. Toxic Exports: The Transfer of Hazardous Wastes from Rich to Poor Countries. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0486613403254563
- Heacock, Michelle, Kelly, Carol Bain, Asante, Kwadwo Ansong, Birnbaum, Linda S., Bergman,
Ake Lennart, Brune, Marie-Noel, Buka, Irena, Carpenter, David O., Chen, Aimin, Huo,
Xia, Kamel, Mostafa, Landrigan, Philip J., Magalini, Federico, Diaz-Barriga, Fernando,
Neira, Maria, Omar, Magdy, Pascale, Antonio, Ruchirawat, Mathuros, Sly, Leith, Sly,
Peter D., Van den Berg, Martin, Suk, William A. 2016. “E-Waste and Harm to Vulnerable
Populations: A Growing Global Problem.” Environmental Health Perspectives 124, no: 5, 550-555. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1509699
- Hossain, Md Sahadat, Sulala M.Z.F. Al-Hamadani, and Md Toufiqur Rahman. 2015. “E-waste:
A Challenge for Sustainable Development.” Journal of Health & Pollution 5, no. 9: 3-11. https://doi.org/10.5696/2156-9614-5-9.3
- Kara, Siddharth. 2017. Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective. New York: Columbia University
- Lubick, Naomi. 2012. “Shifting Mountains of Electronic Waste.” Environmental Health Perspectives
120, no.4: A148-149. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.120-a148
- “Thousands of Tons of E-Waste is Shipped Illegally to Nigeria Inside Used Vehicles.”
NewsRx Health & Science 2018: 507.
- United Nations Environmental Programme, Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary
Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (Geneva: United Nations, 2011). https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/report/basel-convention-control-transboundary-movements-hazardous-wastes