Is the United States’ societal process of speed, mixed with fast capitalism, fueling overconsumption and creating a correlation between economy and structural violence in Mexico through electronic waste? I aim to show how the interconnectedness of consumerism, commerce, refurbishing, manufacturing, scrap collection, and recycling coincide with government policy and geopolitical relations.
The United Nations reports that 41 million tons of electronic waste worth $50 billion dollars is discarded per year globally an of this 41 million tons only 6 million is formally recycled. The remainder is sold to exporters where it is predominately shipped to developing countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and India. This E-waste material is dumped into areas reminiscent of landfills where it is further scavenged by those living in poverty. The process continues with extracting rare earth minerals and other recyclable material to be sold on secondary markets.. These markets operate without much environmental or biological consideration for those being exposed to toxins associated with e-waste disposal. During the extraction process humans are exposed to hazardous chemicals such as: lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC), hexavalent chromium, and brominated-flame retardants (BFRs).
Tensions created between balancing economy and human rights becomes apparent through the interconnectedness involved in each sector of the e-waste industry. These connections exist through the interaction of local governments, their legal system, secondary electronics market, informal recyclers living in poverty, and consumers. The amalgamation of these sectors become the basis for impoverished humans to be paradoxically deemed dispensable yet indispensable. Their basic rights are sacrificed for the sake of geopolitics despite the damage it may cause.
I photographed scrappers living in poverty and refurbisher’s within Tijuana, Mexico. My findings suggest much of the e-waste in Tijuana originates internally and is propelled by the demand for technological modernity and the replacement of obsolete electronics. Most e-waste is mixed with metal scrap waste streams. A large refurbishing and resale market exist in Tijuana. This series of images also shows how some non-profit organizations in Southern San Diego recognize the global e-waste problem and attempt to either refurbish or properly recycle e-waste. Inversely, the for-profit e-waste recycling sector operating in the same region becomes essentially responsible for the exportation of harmful toxic material to developing countries. This arguably creates jobs to those in poverty but by sacrificing their environment and biological health.
This photo essay will be used in conjunction with my Master’s thesis for Hunter College. Partial funding for this research was provided by Hunter College’s Department of Anthropology Research and Training program (DART).
(Click first image to open up slideshow).
Boring, boring, fucking boring… then something happens. That pretty much sums up the life of a photographer involved in day-to-day news coverage. The moments that lead up to a shot can be agonizing but inversely seen as a chance to discover and capture unplanned occurrences. This set of images was taken over the course of several years during down time on humbling daily assignments. They have little to do with aesthetic but do evoke mood, in turn creating their own aesthetic. Roaming the landscape of New York City with one ear plugged into a police scanner while the other listens to the engulfing streets. Occasionally the skies open up and pictures fall out. Many hours can be spent staring at a building or sitting in a car watching the world pass by in all its hectic fury. Most people are skeptical of your camera and the weather hates you. At night you’re isolated and locked out. The nagging feeling of getting a call to respond keeps you from ordering a beer and builds up the anxiety. You see nature coping with its surroundings in urban landscapes. Reflections and shapes appear in beams of light waiting to be frozen in time. You’re immersed in the world with a task to create something by chance. Work at it long enough and chance fades away to probability, probability kills chance and you’re left with definitive proof that you exist. Make something out of nothing and time doesn’t feel wasted. “An artist is always alone if he is an artist.” – Henry Miller