BIT ROT Project

by Valentino Bellini

Consumer goods are meant to be used up and to disappear; the idea of temporariness and transitoriness is intrinsic to their very denomination as objects of consumption; consumer goods have memento mori written all over them, even if with an invisible ink.”

Zygmunt Bauman

 

Bit rot is a colloquial term used in the computerized information systems environment to indicate the gradually decaying of data stored on storage medias or software over the duration of time.

In this case, the concept is transposed from a virtual reality, made of bit and software, to a material one, made of real people, things and places.

This reality is the research subject of the BITROT Project. Through photographic documentation, the project follows the international movements of the e-waste, providing evidence of illegal commerce and disposal and tells the stories of those who are involved, but also underlines green and sustainable alternatives that in many countries have already been adopted.

 

Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is growing faster than any other type of waste. With an annual volume that goes between 40 and 50 million metric tons, according to the UNEP (United Nation Environment Program), the growing amount of e-waste could grow exponentially, as much as 500 times over the coming decade, especially in countries like India, China and some African regions where the technology industry is growing fast.

It is hazardous waste, containing dozens of substances dangerous to human health and the environment; it is hard to be sustainably disposed of and it needs a costly processing technique to make it recyclable. This is the reason why about 80% of the e-waste produced in developed countries (North America and Europe on the top of the list) is not disposed of in situ, but shipped, most of the time illegally, to developing countries on cargo ships, where it is illegally disposed of.

The Basel Convention, adopted on 22 March 1989 and entered into force in 5 May 1992, lays down rules to control, at an international level, transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal, including electrical and electronic waste. However, despite this useful instrument, the international regulation is not effective enough to fight the criminal organizations that gain great profit in moving the materials internationally.

 

This research is inspired by this important, practical problem, represented by the e-waste and focuses on the extreme consumerism of the society we live in.

A society that keeps hostage modern slaves, forced to live and work in detrimental conditions and that at same time, keeps itself as a hostage, always looking for technological and innovative products to satisfy its own need of being fast and competitive. A society where the consumer does not acknowledge boredom and his culture avoids it. Where there is not happiness and the moments of happiness are when we satisfy our impelling needs, careless of acknowledging that our choices have an impact on the life of those that have no choice.

 

To this moment, the project documented the reality of three States among those most affected by this kind of illegal exportation: Ghana, Pakistan, and India. In the following months, the project is going to focus on China, that represents by itself not only one of the main e-waste producer (about 2 million tons per year, second only to US), but also, still one the principal destinations for illegal exportation of electronic waste.

 

Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana. 2012 A young man is transporting electric materials ready to be burnt. The materials treated in the Agbobloshie landfill contain substances that are highly toxic for the environment and for human health. Cadmium, lead, phthalates, antimony, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), chlorobenzenes, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), triphenyl phosphate (TPP), Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs).


 

Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 A guy stand in front of a huge pile of electronic components which will be later processed to extract precious metals.
 
Wagha Town, Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 Trucks full of metallic materials coming from the disposal of electric and electronic waste arrive to this foundry daily. Here the metal, along with some other metal scrap of different provenience, is melted at a temperature of 1800 degrees Celsius. In this way, they create new metallic materials and use it in the construction field.
Hall Road, Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 Hall Road is the largest electronic market in the Punjab region and one of the largest in Pakistan. Here you can find any kind of electronic device. Most of the materials you can find here have been illegally imported from China or western countries. You can buy devices that are new or used and working. There are parts coming from the disposal of devices from United States, Europe or China through illegal shipments, and parts that don’t work anymore and that are sold wholesale to extract metals like gold.
Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 An electronic and electrical waste collection area on the outskirts of Lahore. In this place small business’ owners, look for wastes that they can use for recycling and waste disposal purposes or that contain precious metals.
Walton Road, Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 A boy on the roof of his house is preparing a chemical tank where, through a very complex procedure, he will extract gold from printed circuits that were parts of broken computers. His father had to pay a great amount of money so that his son could learn this technique from another person, but this investment is allowing them to increase the profits of their small business that is specialized in the recycling of electronic waste.
Shahdara, Lahore, Pakistan. 2013 A woman taking apart imported electronic devices. She separates the components that she will sell to specialized retailers.
Odaw River, Accra, Ghana. The Odaw River and the Korle Lagoon are full of every kind of wastes coming from the Agbobloshie landfill and from the nearby slums where they use the river like a latrine. A couple of hundreds meters downhill the river and lagoon flow into the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The government of Ghana is trying to restore the natural conditions of the lagoon thanks to the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration project (KLERP).