Person Speaking,

lower thirds/ text on screen




Every year, 50 million tons of electronic waste is thrown out. 75% of the waste illegally ends up in the landfills of third world countries.


Like India, Bangladesh, China and some African countries, Pakistan has now become a dumping ground too.


Computers, fridges, televisions and unwanted old devices find a new life here, bringing em

ployment to thousands of Pakistani people.


But the health and environmental consequences are monstrous. Electronic pollution destroys everything. This represents a huge setback for a country that doesn’t have the means to remedy this pollution. 


Karachi, the economic and financial capital of Pakistan…


With its 20 million inhabitants, this is one of the largest cities in the world, an incontrollable and ultra violent city.


In the city centre, a step away from the electronics grand bazaar, Ghulam is receiving his goods: hundreds of computers that arrive straight from the harbour.  




Did some customers come by?








But it’s market day, it’s Saturday. You have to try to sell a bit. Do your job well, ok?




Ghulam is one of the main electronic waste importers in Pakistan. He discovered the potential of this market ten years ago. His Ali Baba cavern is packed with broken keyboards, computers and printers.




This is my stock, we bring them to the front of the shop, one by one, to take them apart. We store them here and over there and break them.

We are going to separate everything, the plastic, the metal, the electronic components. We are going to clean everything, put everything into order and resell all this.

Be careful when you sort the keyboards. Put the white ones to one side and the black ones to another.




This 42-year-old tycoon owns two other enormous warehouses. He has employed around thirty people and is proud of his success and having come so far. 




When I started this job, I was illiterate. I started to pick up trash ten years ago. I sorted plastics and electronics. To start with, no one recycled electronic devices in Pakistan, you threw everything out. You didn’t recycle anything. Little by little, I started to gather small objects and I was gaining experience. I understood the value of different electronic components. I went to different companies to gather unusable devices. It became a business. I have been earning a good living for 10, 12 years now.  




Charging 500 euros per ton, Ghulam earns a lot. All of his supplies go through his associates in Dubai - the hub of the region’s electronic waste and wholesale. The associates make it seem like they are functioning second hand products – hard for customers to tell the difference.




In each container, there are always 200 to 300 computers out of one thousand that do not work. Once they get to the harbour, the goods are treated, the second hand material is sold directly to me, I get the waste.




Every year, almost 4 million tons of electronic waste coming mainly from Europe and the U.S. are spilled out onto Karachi’s harbour, much that could have been repaired by the manufacturers or distributors in the native countries.




I think people have realised that getting it recycled in underdeveloped countries is much cheaper than doing it in their own countries. And maybe they are having the environmental concerns of the recycling so, it’s just a wimpy attitude: not in my backyard, in somebody else’s backyard. This is part of globalisation, the world is becoming a vast trade centre so one material that may be a waste for the other may be something for earning for the other country. E-waste is just like that.    






According to the UN, Pakistan is earning as much on electronic waste recycling as it is earning on drug trafficking. That is to say: millions of euros. 

The business has slowly developed a structure and has come to be of particular interest to wholesalers like Nassir, who specializes in DVD readers and CD recycling.




 Hello, how are you? Your goods are ready.

00:06:26: How much can you offer me?  



I can give you 60 cents for each one.  



60 cents per reader?




That’s my best offer.



60 cents is fine. Bring your truck, you can start loading.



Nassir has just bought 900 devices for 500 euros. He is hoping to earn twice as much by selling them to a scrap metal merchant who will disassemble them.  




It’s a good business. I have more and more work. We didn’t use to have as much work. Before, people didn’t realize that they could earn so much by recycling. So there are more and more people who do it now.




But not everyone earns as much as Ghulam and Nassir. In Shersha, just a few kilometres away, this waste will be recycled for a lower price.

Shersha, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Karachi, is located on the border of Lyari. Having been taken over by rival gangs, the authorities have no control over the area.

Everything has been recycled here for the past 30 years. Motors, cars, even vessels.

The massive arrival of electronic waste has created an informal substance economy that feeds 150 000 people. 


There are primitive shops at every street corner. However, no health or environmental regulations are in place.

Faiçal and Akbar own this recycling shop. Every day, the two brothers receive hundreds of kilos of waste, from all over the world.



The things arrive in this condition. For example, for this computer, the first ones take it apart, and then they give the cables and the copper to the shop next door. They only handle plastic cables. Nothing goes to waste here.  



They will extract silver, copper, steel and brass from even the smallest cable, and sell it per gram.

The working conditions are rough. There are very few tools and no health protection. The men work without masks, glasses or gloves. 

They work 10 hours a day surrounded by nauseating smells.

The brothers are about to get to the motherboards.

They use a blowtorch to search for rare elements - precious metals that are indispensable to electronic devices – and for a few grams of gold in the smart cards. 




This is the circuit that I heat to melt the welds. I extract all of this metal. These printed circuits come from DVD readers, computers, remote controls and cell phones.  




This waste releases smoke that is full of dioxide or monoxide carbonate. Inhaling this smoke is extremely toxic for the lungs and the brain.




This job is dangerous. It’s toxic. It’s very toxic. The smoke can cause illnesses. There is necessarily something in these products.   




Resignation isn’t an option. In Pakistan, every second person lives off 1 euro per day. 




People who live here are all work in recycling. We don’t get out of the neighbourhood: we are born here, we work here and we die here. I am not especially happy here. But for now, it is the only thing that allows me to live.  




On a good day, the brothers make 2 euros. 


Akbar’s mother

Akbar, come eat.



This is the only income for their family of 6.

The father lost his job after an accident. He was working in Shershah, collecting copper. The two brothers are still not able to make as much as their father did.



These days, we are working at a loss. We are not able to extract enough things.



Akbar’s mother

Listen, you are two people working. If, even being 2, you don’t manage, then it’s useless. My children have studied and yet there are no jobs for them. Every end of the month, when things are going quite well, I thank God. 



Generally labourers are uneducated, the people who are involved are not aware of what they are handling. So they are not properly aware of what are the dangers for their health, what are the dangers for the environment or how it can be damaging. So the awareness has increased but not in the communities that are involved with the recycling business. For them, it’s a matter of business. They may be handling those toxic materials, they may be handling dangerous material, unaware of what the consequences can be.




In Shershah, everyone ends up being poisoned by electronic waste. Lead, cadmium and mercury is progressively polluting the neighbourhood. Even those who don’t work get sick. Yet no one seems to worry.

Akbar’s mother, Muniba, has always lived here. Ever since she was born, she has been breathing polluted air. She is suffering from stomach upsets, skin diseases and is often affected by allergies. During certain months, she spends half of her sons’ income on medicine, but often sees no results.



Muniba (Akbar’s mother)

All this is my medication. I get them from another neighbourhood. Right now, the children don’t have any allergies. Only I do.

(00:14:19) Sometimes I get pimples like this all over my body. It really hurts, it itches. It stings like a needle. We are not the only ones in the neighbourhood who are sick. 




I am doing health examinations so that I can show them to the doctor. 





You can see from this X-ray that he has a lung infection.    




The toxic gases have reached Akbar’s lungs. The 21-year-old young man is living on borrowed time. 


(00:15:02) Today, Akbar has decided to get a health check-up in the other side of town.


Doctor Asif Khan specialises in breathing problems. He has been working in Karachi for 5 years and is constantly busy. 




These are my X-rays and my examinations. They are from 2011. Because in 2011 I had an infection in the right lung. I also had stomach problems. I was treated at the hospital. They told me it was a lung infection. Because of this, I was spitting blood.


Asif Khan


How long was your treatment? 




About a year. 




Did they use endoscopy? Did they put a camera through your mouth?




No, just X-rays.




Describe your job to me.




I handle components that contain chemicals, but I do not know what is harmful and what is not. I burn them with a blowpipe. 




Do you use hands and gloves?



No, neither. Nothing at all. 




Listen, Akbar. The work that you do, burning electronic circuit boards, heavy metals, you are led to handle dangerous materials. When you burn a card, you are releasing gases that are very harmful to your health. I am repeating this: you have to wear a mask, glasses and gloves. These are the only ways to protect yourself. If you don’t do it, your health may be further harmed with time.  

(00:17:20) The E waste recycling holds a whole spectrum of health problems, rending from skin problem to digestive issues to even neurological illnesses. And obviously as the magnitude of the industry is growing, so is the magnitude of the health problems.



Subjected to cancer, neurological and breathing illnesses, recycling workers have the lowest life expectancy in the country.

4 million people die every year for causes linked to electronic waste.

Despite the risks to his life, Akbar cannot do without his job. He arrives back home in the evening and continues his work, piece by piece.

The waste and their toxic substances are located in the centre of the household. The entire family are exposed to them.




It’s true that if I used gloves, it would protect me, but I would be much slower. The components are very small and it would be hard to grab them with gloves. I have to sort 25 kilos in 2 hours to earn a little money. With gloves, that would take me several days. If I wore gloves, it would take me longer. I work without a fan voluntarily so that the chemicals and the dust doesn’t affect me by flying away.   




But these precautions are derisory … In Shershah, everyone knows than when someone starts to work in recycling, they lose 10 years of their life. 



Of course I told him to look for another job, but there is no other work in this neighbourhood. We have no other choice. That’s why everyone works in the same field here.  



But not only does the electronic waste affect the workers and their families’ health, it is also harmful to the environment.

Shershah is one of the most polluted neighbourhoods in Pakistan. Ground water is contaminated. 

On the banks of the Lyari river, amongst the landfill, toxic residues are being burnt. Their poison pours out slowly into the water and the soil.




I grew up in Shershah. My school used to be there, right on the banks of the river. And as a student we used to go to the river to catch fish. It used to be a clean environment, so we have paid a heavy price pouring out liquids and solid waste into the Lyari river and turning into just a gutte rline or a waste line. It is the destruction of the environment that I have seen with my own eyes. So I have grown up in the area so it touches my heart when I go to that area and see that level of pollution.



Saba and Shoaib are some of the rare activists that have dared to enter this area. Both of them work for the NGO WWF.




Look at this river. You can smell it, it smells horrible. It’s unacceptable for the people who live here. When I think about all this waste going into the sea… It’s a catastrophe for the whole city.

Look at these children who are crossing the river, how harmful it is for them. Because of the waste, even the air is contaminated.

The cows here… They drink this water too! This water nourishes the city and its surroundings. This water is contaminated and untreated. It’s the most polluted place in the city.



It affects the whole neighbourhood because the people who live here are exposed directly to this pollution.



Yes but it’s especially these children who are in danger. We are here and we will raise their awareness, but then we will leave. They will continue to live here and be poisoned, it’s dangerous for them and it’s dangerous for the next generations.




Do you often come here to play? Why do you come here to play?




Yes, we come here all the time.




Today, Saba and Shoaib are going to warn these children’s parents about electro-smog.




Hello, what do you know about the river’s negative effects on you and your children?



Woman 1

We don’t do anything because no one helps us. I tell the children not to play there, but they don’t listen. 



Woman 2 


We have no other choice, we recycle this water. We have no other choice, we have to do with what we have, we would need external help to solve the water problems, in order to get drinkable water. And we would have to get it from somewhere else.  



And what is the government done? Have they come to see the conditions you are living in?



Woman 1

They came, they made videos and they left. No news since.




What illnesses are linked to the river? Asthma, conjunctivitis? 



Yes, there is asthma and the smoke that comes from the burning waste just next-door stings our eyes.




Malika is an immigrant who fled the north of the country and the Taliban. She was hoping to find work and a peaceful life in Shershah.

Now she is worried about her eldest daughter who has been bedridden for the past few days. The local clinic was not able to tell her more about her condition.




My eldest daughter’s eyes are stinging and she is having problems breathing. May God save her. Her medicine cost me 3 euros, but she still isn’t recovering. And we don’t understand what is wrong with her. 




Malika uses part of the family budget on clean water. But it doesn’t seems to help: her daughter is getting worse by the day.




Do you want to eat something?


Do you want you medicine?


What do you want to eat? Some bread loaf?





Many such families dream of leaving Shershah: but they cannot afford to do so.


The authorities are powerless in the face of the e-waste pollution’s magnitude.



It has become a problem, and we are aware. But keeping in view the priority, we focus other ways. If we just evoke the solid waste, of Karachi, currently it is around more than 12.000 tons per day. The wastewater, whether it is treated or untreated, both are mixed and ultimately disposed through this river to the Arabic sea. 





The Arabic sea is just off the Karachi river and is now contaminated by e-waste pollution. A whole community is in danger: the fishermen’s community, representing more than 2 million people in Pakistan.




There used to be a lot of fish in Karachi but today, because of the pollution, there are much less. This pollution is everywhere. The Lyari river pours waste directly out into the ocean.  So we are pushed to go far from the costs to find fish. Near the cost you only find waste and mud. The government is not doing anything.





The material that is coming out of the e-waste from Pakistan and other countries, they are again going back to the developed countries for re-use. So it’s a big cycle. It’s ultimately, some of these materials that are taken out of this e-waste that are of no use to this nation but it is of great use for the nation that are using it – which means China, even the European countries or other places where these materials can be used for creating other electronic materials. So it’s a big cycle.   




Dismantled in Pakistan and reused in China or elsewhere: nothing seems to be stopping this vicious cycle of e-waste trafficking - not even the laws reinforcing the Basel Convention.

This is an alarming situation in the face of a growing global consumption of computers and cell phones.

If nothing is done, the electronic revolution will continue to have devastating effects.

In the meantime, Sharshah, an open wound in the heart of Karachi, continues to absorb the aftermath of e-waste recycling.


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