Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Recycle with your head, not your heart



Most people are Nice. Many (like me) are occasionally grumpy when cornered but given a friendly approach and a bit of TLC and they open up, answer your question and move on from there. It can still be a no but it is a nice no.

After some thirty five years in sales and customer service one way or another, I am used to a no. I don’t get offended by it as an answer. Not if it is delivered with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders because it is not personal.

But when you find someone who has been tricked into recycling with a shyster, and you try to put them right, you have to take care. I am learning that slowly. Because often people have been taken in by the idea of doing good. They think they are donating to a charity and that makes them feel good. Then some old fool like me comes along and bursts their bubble.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. Exporting second hand IT equipment to Africa is not a good thing at all. Even if it is done by a charity, and even if it really does get to a kid (not all do by any means) it is still going to end up in landfill one day fairly soon. We are merely exporting our problems and doing untold damage to the planet. I cannot accept that is a good thing.

It is not actually illegal to export ‘working’ equipment. This is where we enter one of those grey areas you need a law degree to get out of to be honest. I need to issue a waste transfer note to collect anything for recycling which means it is waste, but if it is in working condition I can then send it straight out to Ghana.

Responsible recyclers have a problem with that. Our first principle is to keep things out of landfill and even if that clapped out PC works for six months it is still going to get put in the ground, by yet another bare foot, underfed child paid a pittance in terrible conditions. Ergo donating equipment to a charity that will export stuff legally is a bad thing. Giving it to a shyster that will do it illegally is so much worse, and telling the difference between the two is really hard.

So if green is important to you, giving your old kit to a charity is a non-starter, unless their operations are exclusively in this country, or another country covered by decent WEEE regulations. Equally unfortunately for you, that knocks out more or less all of the free collection services. Most of these use (and abuse) the charitable model and unless your kit is reasonably new the only way to make cash out of it was to flog it for illegal export. Or skimp on the paperwork and the data erasure.

And that really would put the cat amongst the pigeons because there are a lot of people getting rid of their stuff for free. The entire back catalogue of this blog explains why that is generally a terrible idea. Not only are these people getting fooled into thinking they are doing something nice, but they are also taking unbelievable risks with their data security.

I am fairly sure that people simply hear or see the word charity and they let their hearts rule their heads. Because this is not their money they are donating remember. This is those three old PC’s from accounts. They imagine the happy smiling faces of African children joyfully working on their new computer and pat themselves on the back. The idea that they should do due diligence and work out what is really happening does not even enter their heads.

But it should. Their data is on those hard drives. And their moral responsibility should make them at least ask a few questions. Like what real use is a clapped out 5 year old desktop? Scrap value is a fiver and yet this ‘charity’ is going to do what with it?

Even if their data is properly dealt with (it is possible but unlikely on a free collection) they are ignoring the fact that we are exporting our waste to landfill on another continent. That is not something to make your heart sing my dears. It is quite the opposite.

I am not saying every charity is bad by any means. I have problems with the level of admin costs with almost all of them, and the fact that they have highly paid executives, but a lot of good work is clearly being done all over the world. But in this instance, ask some hard questions with your head.

Is this export legally done? If yes, the charity will have an export license of some sort, some sort of proof they are allowed to do what they do. It is not unreasonable in this day and age to ask to see a copy. I can email you a PDF of any certificate or license we have, right now.

How do they deal with the stuff they have exported at end of life? Are they arranging for ethical recycling? Or is it being disposed of locally (IE landfill)?

There is a huge campaign building against the amount of legal WEEE hitting Africa. There is an Environment Agency task force, there are prosecutions, just Google it. But if you know where to go you can easily get £200 a pallet for any old junk if you are willing to take the risk. And a lot of these not for profit fronts have a business raking it in behind them.

EReco are a business. Of course we want to make a profit. We put a value on our services that some people appreciate. Others don’t and you can tell me no thanks not today, any time you like. That is your prerogative. But please, don’t be fooled by this disgrace. If you are ‘giving’ to charity, check it out. Ask some questions.

I have. I am having an interesting email correspondence with one 'charity' who doesn't want to answer my questions. It is like getting a straight answer out of Tony Blair.  So far he has said he is careful where he sends kit, and that it is really only practical if it is less than five years old. He also let slip that Uganda, that world economic powerhouse, has just banned the import of used electronic equipment.

That alone should make you think.