Reassembling Rubbish

Visualizing Transboundary Shipments of E-waste

How are the international trade and traffic of electronic waste organized?

The interactive cartograms below are a partial answer to that question. They depict the organization of trade and traffic in 1996 and 2012, the earliest and latest dates for currently available data. These visualizations are an interactive version of work published as part of the Reassembling Rubbish project in peer-reviewed academic journals. A brief introduction to the findings of this work is available here.

For readers who may be interested, the full articles are available free without subscription at the following links:

Lepawsky, Josh. 2014. “The Changing Geography of Global Trade in Electronic Discards: Time to Rethink the E-Waste Problem.” The Geographical Journal, April, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1111/geoj.12077. Click here for paper.

Lepawsky, Josh, and Chris McNabb. 2010. “Mapping International Flows of Electronic Waste.” The Canadian Geographer 54 (2): 177–95. Click here for paper.

What do the cartograms show?

The cartograms depict data available from the United Nations Statistics Division's "COMTRADE" database. The data are organized into territories and the flows of e-waste that connect them. Territories are colour coded to reflect their status under Annex VII of the Basel Convention (blue for Annex VII territories and yellow for non-Annex VII territories). The larger the circle representing a given territory (e.g., Canada) the more other territories report receiving e-waste shipments from it. Readers not already familiar with the significance of the division between Annex VII and non-Annex VII territories are invited to download the publications above, both of which provide discussion about this issue.

The flow lines depict the volume and direction of e-waste flows between territories. To understand flow direction, follow flow lines in a clockwise direction from one node to another. The thicker the flow lines, the larger the volume of the flow. Currently the software used to create the cartograms (discussed below) does not easily allow labeling of the flows (i.e., displaying the actual number representing the weight of the flow volume).

The data come with some extremely important caveats and limits. These are discussed fully in the Methods section of Lepawsky (2014, free access). In summary, the caveats and limits of the data include:

Cartograms for 1996 and 2012


How do I use the cartograms?

To view the cartograms, move your mouse over one of the cartograms and click the "Source" button when it appears beneath it. This will open the cartogram in a full sized window (they do not have full functionality on mobile platforms). Also:


How were the cartograms produced?

A full discussion of the methods used to build these visualizations is available in Lepawsky (2014, free access). To summarize the process:

The Gephi networks exported using Sigmajs Exporter currently have some limitations that control the 'look' of the cartograms. These are largely aesthetic, but do have some implications for interpreting the cartograms. For example, it is not currently possible with Sigmajs Exporter to display the value of trade flows (e.g., with a data value adjacent to a given flow line). Thus interpretation of trade volumes is currently limited to visual comparisons of flow line thickness (thicker lines equal greater volumes of flow and vice versa). Also, some flow line colours render inconsistently. This is an artefact of the Sigmajs Exporter plugin and amounts to an aesthetic issue and should not be interpreted as having anything to do with the underlying data.

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