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University of Florida Alumni Shed Light on Electronic Waste

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An environmentally conscious film created by University of Florida graduates will be showcased at Maker Faire Rome, which will take place Oct. 3 – 5.

Maker Faire Rome will showcase the film in Italy during Innovation Week as part of its celebration of innovation, science and art.

Terra Blight” — a documentary about the United States’ obsession with technology and how electronic waste, or e-waste, pollutes Ghana — took four and a half years to complete.

Isaac Brown, who oversaw production, direction and editing, was chosen to be a panelist at the event along with producer Eric Flagg. They plan to talk via webcam about the film and the importance of making environmentally friendly electronics.

The documentary shows Ghanaian children rummaging through Agbogbloshie, the infamous e-waste site in Accra, Ghana. Children and young adults go to the site to break down old electronics and sell the parts for income.

Metal scavenging is dangerous because in order to retrieve the valuable parts, one must burn through the protective rubber or smash the plastic covering, Brown said. Burning through sheathed cables to obtain the valuable copper, for instance, can release lead into the air and soil.

Kurt Seaburg, hazardous waste coordinator of the Environmental Protection Department in Alachua County, said these computer parts contain substances such as lead, mercury and flame-retardants, which could cause cancer. They are extremely toxic when inhaled and can end up in drinking water.

Heaibert Diamond, a 20-year-old UF English major, said he grew up in the city where “Terra Blight” was filmed. He used to play in one of the dumpsites in Accra, and said he sees e-waste differently.

“I’m not totally mad” at the dumpsite, Diamond said.

It’s an opportunity for Ghanaians to earn money because the United States is sending recyclable parts that have value. If Diamond still lived in Ghana, he would also sell computer parts, he said.

Sometimes money is more important than health, Diamond said. Ghanaians tend to not care about cancer because there are dumpsites everywhere.

If they continue to deliver old electronics, Diamond suggests the U.S. government should build a facility in Ghana that could remove the hazardous material from the waste.

Although it is more expensive to properly dispose of electronics, Seaburg said there are countries that are developing new ways to handle e-waste. Currently, there are precious metal refinery companies in Belgium, Sweden, Germany, India, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the United States.

While filming, Brown described the appearance of Agbogbloshie as traumatic.

“We went to that dumpsite on a daily basis and saw things that were really post-apocalyptic looking,” Brown said. “The smells that are happening at that dumpsite are just toxic.”

He said it is frustrating knowing that Accra will stay like this for a long time or until people decide to take responsibility for their old electronics.

Alachua County residents can prevent further pollution by donating old electronics to the Alachua County Hazardous Waste Collection Center or the Arc of Alachua County.

About Norman Galang

Norman is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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