Disturbing photos of the toxic graveyards where your old gadgets go to die

Ever wonder what happens to your phone once you’ve traded it in or dropped it off at a recycling center?

In 2014 the world produced more than 40 million metric tons of discarded electronic goods, or e-waste. Many items end up in landfills where young men work in hazardous conditions to sort, recycle, and dispose of our formerly beloved gadgets.

Photographer Valentino Bellini documented the world’s largest e-waste hubs in his series called The BIT ROT Project, which you can read more here.

Every few months, consumers hit the streets with the latest, fastest, smartest, and slickest gadgets in their pockets. But what happens when those shiny new toys go out of style? Some end up in 'e-waste' dumps like this one, in Qingyuan, China.

In 2014, the world generated 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste, or electronic goods discarded by their owners without intent to reuse. It is believed that less than one-sixth of the e-waste was properly recycled.

Lahore, Pakistan

Source: United Nations University

In some countries, legislation requires major corporations to collect, recycle, and dispose of e-waste in an environmentally responsible way. But these processes can be expensive.

Lahore, Pakistan

Many companies opt to cheaply (and illegally) export their e-waste to developing countries with less stringent laws, where 'modern slaves' deal with the abandoned goods. Dumps form, contaminating the earth with toxic substances such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and flame retardants.

Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana -- a former wetland turned toxic graveyard of computers, smartphones, and wires -- young men make a living of about $2.50 a day, sorting through the rubbish with their bare hands. Each piece has a value derived from the materials it was built with.

Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

Heaps of e-waste are set on fire or doused with chemical solvents, in order to burn off the rubber and plastic so workers can harvest the valuable materials inside. Televisions and PCs are cracked open with rocks and tools for their copper, which may pay for food.

Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

The living conditions in the e-waste hubs are vicious. Workers in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, make shelters out of scraps and waste inside the parameters of the landfills.

Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

Health concerns are dire. Breathing in toxic fumes day after day, many workers reportedly die of cancer and other illnesses by the time they're 20 years old.

Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana

Source: The Guardian

In Guiyu, China, some 80,000 of 130,000 residents work in the dumps, according to a 2012 local government estimate. Metal contamination has turned the air and water toxic, and many locals suffer substantial digestive, neurological, respiratory, and bone problems.

Guiyu, China

Source: AFP

The e-waste hubs vary in size and work force. This Qingyuan, China-based company has been extracting metals from e-waste for more than 10 years.

Qingyuan, China

In the same region, a family-run operation focuses on stripping refrigeration systems and high-voltage electricity cables. Workers are paid according to the weight of recycled materials they handled in a day.

Qingyuan, China

In Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India, a worker boils transformers and inductors in a metal pot in his home. Sometimes the work is carried out in the yard.

Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India

Bellini believes most major IT corporations are culprits in the world's e-waste crisis. It begins with their suspected intentional planned obsolescence of the products.

Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India

'(They) are guilty from the moment they design their products to last less and less, for obvious commercial reasons,' Bellini says ...

Lahore, Pakistan

'They are guilty because they use materials and highly toxic substances in their products, despite (the fact that) today's technology allows for substitution with less hazardous or even harmless materials.'

Kancheepuram District, Tamilnadu, India

'And they are guilty when, at the end of the life-cycle of the product, they do not take charge of its disposal,' Bellini says.

Lahore, Pakistan

Researchers expect the volume of e-waste to increase 21% to 50 million metric tons in 2018. There's no solution in sight.

New Territories, Hong Kong

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