Environmental Injustice And The Political Economy Of Ewaste

The high correlation between poverty, race, and pollution in the United States has been variously referred to as environmental racism, environmental inequality, and environmental injustice (Bullard 2000). This is also a problem with a global reach.

It has become clear that, like many other forms of pollution, e-waste also follows the "path of least resistance" and finds its way into nations that are poor and largely populated by non-European peoples—a form of global environmental racism. Governments and industry leaders allow (if not encourage) these practices because they facilitate profit-making and the creation of low-wage work for many residents of economically desperate communities. Ravi Agarwal, an activist with Toxics Link India, states: "As developing countries become cleaner and it becomes very expensive to dispose of waste because of rising environmental standards and labor standards, such waste finds itself in places like India and South Asia, and South East Asia" (Asia Pacific nd).

Jim Puckett, one of Agarwal's transnational movement collaborators at the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN), concurs. He argues that the global trade in e-waste is a shady business that "leaves the poorer peoples of the world with an untenable choice between poverty and poison" (Gough 2002). These two activists and their organizations have joined forces across thousands of miles to ensure that there is some accountability on the part of industries and consumers in urban centres of the global North whose waste ends up in the urban centres of the South. Puckett states:

This mentality perpetuated now by the United States is an affront to the principle of environmental justice, which ironically was pioneered in the United States and championed by the EPA domestically. The principle states that no people because of their race or economic status should bear a disproportionate burden of environmental risks. While the United States talks a good talk about the principle of environmental justice at home for their own population, they work actively on the global stage in direct opposition to it.

(Basel Action Network & Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition 2002:29)

Activists from other SMOs that have worked on the e-waste problem echo these sentiments. As a communiqué from the GrassRoots Recycling Network declared in response to the USEPA's recent decision to allow e-waste exports, "Asian peoples are now asked to accept pollution that we have created simply because they are poorer" (GrassRoots Recycling Network 2003). Responding to similar reports, Von Hernandez of Greenpeace International stated, "Asia is the dustbin of the world's hazardous waste" (Vidal 2004). Each of the above-mentioned social movement organizations has collaborated to challenge global environmental racism (in the form of e-waste dumping) at the discursive/symbolic level as well as through efforts to reform the material/structural practices that embody environmental inequality. This is the essence of the transnational social movement form and the most effective way for resistance to take root in the context of neoliberal regimes.

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