BIT ROT Project - PhMuseum

BIT ROT Project

Valentino Bellini

2012 - 2013

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.

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  • Walton Road, Lahore, Pakistan.
    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.

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    A boy is boiling some old transistors in metal pots. In this way, the plastic will melt and he will be able to gather the metallic parts and sell them.
    Most of the time, this technique is carried out in a yard or in private houses, just like in this case. The consequences are severe problems to the health of the worker; because of the toxic smoke produced by burning plastic.

  • Hall Road, Lahore, Pakistan.
    About 20% of the electronic devices exported in Pakistan from China or western countries are fully functional, or just need some repairing to work again.
    It is important to keep in mind that the illegal import of electronic devices has increased the general population’s access to technologic objects, like laptops and televisions, and to new forms of culture, even for the poorest.

  • Chennai, India.
    Two workers of SIMS Recycling Solutions, the global leader in the recovery of electronic and electric wastes for reuse and recycling. It has facilities in the five continents.
    SIMS signs contracts with big companies that recycle obsolete devices on their premises.
    SIMS Recycling Solutions provides 1700 collection points of end of life electronics throughout India. However, managing to take away large amounts of waste from the illegal market is a hard task, especially in places like India, where people live selling wastes, the same wastes that in other countries would be disposed of for free.
    SIMS is trying to raise awareness in the population about the risks of environmental pollution and for the human health and is offering services to the local community.

  • Hall Road, Lahore, Pakistan.
    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.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    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).

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    One of the young boys working in Agbobloshie made the landfill his home; he has built a shelter made of different types of scraps and wastes.
    Most part of the people who work in Agbobloshie is from the North of Ghana, in the rural regions. To work in Agbobloshie they have to leave their families and their homes.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    A pile of copper on the ground of the landfill. In the Agbobloshie landfill, copper is the most precious material. After extracting it from electric wires, it is sold for an amount that is barely enough to buy one or two meals for the day.

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    A warehouse used to dismantle electronic devices. Where they separate the components and extract the parts to sell.

  • Lahore, Pakistan.
    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.

  • Shahdara, Lahore, Pakistan.
    A woman taking apart imported electronic devices. She separates the components that she will sell to specialized retailers.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    A young man during a pause from work in front of the Agbobloshie landfill. He is waiting to collect electric materials that are going to be burnt in order to extract metallic parts to sell.

  • Karachi, Pakistan.
    A small repair shop specialized in electric and electronic devices inside a shopping mall .

  • Kancheepuram Districti, Tamil Nadu, India.
    GEMS (Global E-Waste Managment and Services) facilities close to Chennai.
    GEMS is one of the few companies authorized to treat electric and electronic waste in India.
    They separate the different parts of the wastes, plastic and metallic, and then they sell them to companies specialized in the recycling of those specific materials.
    According to the law in India, it is not possible to treat and recycle materials like PBCs (Printed Circuit Boards) because of the substances they contain. Consequentially, a company like GEMS is allowed to accumulate and store a minimum of 300 tons of material and then export it to other countries, (Hong Kong and Singapore) where they can legally treat them.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    Young boys selecting electric and electronic wastes in front of the Agbobloshie landfill. The flow of trucks unloading waste coming from other parts of the city or from Tema Harbor, is unstoppable. Tema Harbor is the main commercial seaport in Ghana receiving all the shipments coming from United States and Europe.

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    Old Seelampur is one the poorest suburb areas but the biggest e-waste market in Delhi.
    There are dozens of retail and wholesale stores. Most of them buy materials from abroad (USA, Europe, Dubai). They buy it for about $10 cents to $15 cents per kilo and they sell it for double the price to other stores. There, they separate the components of the electric and electronic devices in order to sell them again.

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    The average pay of an electric waste disposal worker in the suburbs of Old Seelampur in New Delhi is about 2/3 thousand Indian rupee per month, which is about 35/55 dollars. It pays for nine to ten hours of work per day, with insufficient security conditions, in close and prolonged contact with toxic substances and without any kind of protection for human health or the environment.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    One of the many boys, ages between 12 and 18 years old, working for the Agbobloshie landfill.
    Criminal organizations are in charge of all the activities in the landfill, like recycling and electronic and electric waste disposal. They exploit young men, gaining an enormous amount of money thanks to their work and leave them with just enough money to survive.

  • Wagha Town, Lahore, Pakistan.
    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.

  • Lian River, Guiyu, China.
    A branch of the Lian River, a minor river that flows into the South China Sea.
    Here, every night, huge piles of electrical and electronic waste, together with other waste derived from the manufacture (another business very present in this region) are accumulated on the banks of the river and are set on fire.
    These wastes are the last link in the chain, the result of all the processes of cannibalization and recycling. From these materials is no longer possible to extract anything that has a value, then are burned in the open air thus creating serious pollution problems for air and the surrounding waterways.

  • Lahore, Pakistan.
    In a bulk warehouse of used electronic components, printed circuit boards waiting to be processed.

  • Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong.
    Hong Kong harbour is one of the largest commercial ports in the world and is the largest access point to mainland China for goods from all over the world.
    Here arrive also container ships full of electric and electronic waste from Europe and the United States.

  • Huaqing Recycling Solution Center, Qingyuan, China.
    A room with informational materials about the life cycle of electrical and electronic products designed to sensitize the local population on the use and dispose of these wastes.

  • Guangzhou, China.
    A boy waits for customers in his hardware materials store, inside a big shopping mall for electronics.
    They sell mostly used materials which can then be used to compose "new" second-hand electronic items.

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    Old transistors boiling in metal pots. In this way, the plastic will melt and he will be able to gather the metallic parts and sell them.
    Most of the time, this technique is carried out in a yard or in private houses, just like in this case. The consequences are severe problems to the health of the worker; because of the toxic smoke produced by burning plastic.

  • 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).

  • Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.
    Two young men during a break in a warehouse full of old cathode ray tube monitors.
    These types of devices contain polluting and toxic substances like lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs).
    A prolonged exposure to these compounds can cause serious problems for the environment and for human health.

  • Wagha Town, Lahore, Pakistan.
    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.

  • Kancheepuram Districti, Tamil Nadu, India.
    Plastic monitors wrecks accumulated in the “plastic segregation” sector of GEMS (Global E-Waste Managment and Services) facilities close to Chennai.
    GEMS is one of the few companies authorized to treat electric and electronic waste in India. They separate the different parts of the wastes, plastic and metallic, and then they sell them to companies specialized in the recycling of those specific materials.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    A guy is standing in the midst of smoke, fire and residual parts of electronic equipment as he burn it to extract some copper contained inside he will resell later to gain his daily food.

  • Walton Road, Lahore, Pakistan.
    On the roof of a building, bins full of chemicals that will be used for the extraction of precious metals from electronic waste.

  • Lahore, Pakistan.
    A guy stand in front of a huge pile of electronic components which will be later processed to extract precious metals.

  • Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.
    One of the young boys working in Agbobloshie made the landfill his home; he has built a shelter made of different types of scraps and wastes. Most part of the people who work in Agbobloshie are from rural Northern Ghana. To work in Agbobloshie they have to leave their families and their homes.


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