Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Acid Baths Come Free

Here in eReco land we have taken a strong position against the illegal export of WEEE to countries such as Ghana. If you read back through previous blog posts you will see a lot of angst but does it make a difference? Does anyone give a flying fortress?

Then someone followed us on Twitter, @Africaewaste to be precise, and I had a good look at their website here to see what they were all about. I urge you to go and take a look and read their newsletters, especially the one from October 2014.

And this is South Africa. I am not an expert on Africa by any means but as I understand it South Africa is one of the wealthier countries, and one of the more progressive. It makes you wince. I read the story of acid baths being used to separate metal and thought of kids doing the work for pennies and getting sick and wondered how many of those machines had been donated to a ‘charity’ or collected by a free service in the UK?

Because this is the ultimate price we are paying for all those free collections. Ok, let’s be reasonable here, not all of them. Some of them must be making money by other means than dumping on Africa but I have to tell you I struggle to see how, unless they are cutting corners somewhere.

Bob Geldof embarrassed us all with the original Live Aid. His ‘give us your fecking money’ approach to fundraising certainly upset a few applecart’s but as he said, kids were dying. Well kids are still dying and we are all complicit in it.

I talked to a prospect this morning. Nice lady. She explained that her IT equipment all went to a charity. I began to ask some questions, she began to hum and ha. She did not know what they did with the equipment. She was not sure how they removed her data or what paperwork she got, but it was for a charity, so it must be ok?

In short, I was banging my commercial head against a brick wall. Mention the word charity and we all want to jump into a bath of baked beans or run a marathon in a bunny suit. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse used to do sketches about it...everything is fine as long as it is for charity.

Well in this case it isn’t. To paraphrase what Sir Bob might say, it’s a fecking disgrace. Not only are far too many businesses and organisations risking a serious data breach but they are also aiding the exploitation of third world countries. Oxfam are running TV campaigns about children dying in the Sudan at the moment, and yet people are donating their PC’s to Africa? They need food, they need clean water, they need medicine...they do not need a Facebook page.

I do not have all the figures. This is a blog not Panorama. I believe 190k tons of UK WEEE ends up in Ghana every year. Africa is a big place and there must lots of directions things can enter from, so it must be hard to ever get a true picture. But can we not apply a little commonsense here?

Yes, these collections are free. But ask yourself how and why? Even if it is a charity, they have costs to cover before they even make any money for their particular cause. How can they keep you compliant for no charge? What is going to happen to the data? Where is the equipment going to end up?

Maybe you don’t care? Maybe paying £50 to get rid of that rubbish in the store cupboard is too rich for your palate? Free sounds so much better...even if someone else pays a heavy price? Well just think about that acid bath, just think about the people who are forced to scrape a living dealing with your waste. Just think about 190k tons every year in Ghana.

I clearly want you to use us to recycle your WEEE. I admit our commercial interest, but we are not the only ones trying to do things properly. Use someone who is. Please. People are being conned and misled and the planet, and its people, our brothers and sisters, are suffering badly as a result. And it’s such a small insignificant thing.

Please let’s stop being blasé. Let’s start being truly responsible. Let’s forget about what we paid for that shiny new laptop 4 years ago and think about it buried in Africa, or bubbling away in an acid bath. Responsible recycling doesn’t cost a fortune, but only you can make sure that it does not cost the Earth.