I did some articles last year on the effects of technology dumping in the developing world, and the BBC3 programme Blood Sweat and Luxuries which was on last night took cameras to a dump in Ghana and really brought the issue alive. I don’t think the programme quite explained why it’s so difficult to stop this dumping – and it didn’t mention the role of technology companies in failing to help prevent it – but it was very effective at showing the almost unbelievable effects our high consumption of IT has on people in Ghana, Nigeria and other countries.
Councils, universities, schools and police forces all think they’re sending their old IT off to recyclers, but they’re failing to properly track the process. Instead of being recycled the stuff is ending up dumped. The government says it can’t check every container leaving the UK, so organised criminals are making a profit by taking money off UK companies to recycle goods before carting it off to Africa or Asia.
There’s an onus on UK organisations to get their act together and start recycling properly instead of cheerfully accepting whatever their recycling company tells then. And I don’t think I’m being completely naïve in saying technology manufacturers like Dell, Apple and HP have a responsibility to invest in recycling plants in countries affected by this. If there are facilities to extract valuable materials like copper safely, and an incentive for local people to take dumped IT to the plants, maybe children will stop burning toxic plastics on the dumps and stop working and sleeping there with no protection against the hazards.
It’s a frustrating issue because there are potential solutions to it in a sector that generates high profits. But you see very little action being taken and comparatively little interest in it – instead they spend their ample budgets selling us more computers we don’t need. I wish the people who have the power to tackle this would step up and do it.