One man's trash is another man's gold
June 26, 2009 12:48 PM   Subscribe

FRONTLINE: Ghana - Digital Dumping Ground On the outskirts of Ghana's biggest city sits a smoldering wasteland, a slum carved into the banks of the Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth. The locals call it Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the biggest fallouts? Identity Theft.
posted by Christ, what an asshole (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What I don't see in this article is exactly where the computers are coming from. Are the computers in Ghana the result of computer recycling?
posted by aetg at 1:02 PM on June 26, 2009

I watched this video two nights ago. Some really terrific journalism, but it makes me feel like I feel after reading a cormac mccarthy novel.
posted by localhuman at 1:12 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

OK people it is really simple...Destroy the drive before dumping. Take a hammer and a screwdriver. Place pointy end on drive, mash with hammer until pointy end goes through drive case and shatters the platters.
posted by Gungho at 1:17 PM on June 26, 2009

What I don't see in this article is exactly where the computers are coming from.

The article states: When containers of old computers first began arriving in West Africa a few years ago, Ghanaians welcomed what they thought were donations to help bridge the digital divide. But soon exporters learned to exploit the loopholes by labeling junk computers "donations," leaving men like Godson to sort it out.

It still isn't clear from exactly where, though.
posted by hippybear at 1:19 PM on June 26, 2009

Digital Dump? Please seed!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 1:21 PM on June 26, 2009

Remember, A single overwrite is enough to effectively destroy all the data on your old hard disk. And it can be done free.

But it would be even better to just stop dumping the stuff. Ghana's not the only place polluted by our old junk.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:34 PM on June 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Are the computers in Ghana the result of computer recycling?

I used to spend a good amount of time volunteering for a computer recycling company, and one of the biggest hurdles the organization had to overcome, and overcome repeatedly, was finding a reliable means of processing the e-waste that came in. They were a small operation, so they didn't have any of the reclamation/processing equipment themselves, so they passed on a good portion of the waste to outside contractors. In the years I was there, they had to back out of at least two partnerships when it was revealed that the outside contractors were simply stripping out the copper and dumping the rest in East Asia in big, nasty piles. We're talking dozens of shipping container's worth of toxic garbage. The organization did the best it could to make sure that the outside contractors were on the level, but the all-mighty dollar was too tempting for many.

So, while this might not be what happened in the case of the article linked above, it's not uncommon, and we're going to be hearing about it more and more.
posted by lekvar at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are recycling facilities that promise not to export your e-waste. Seek them out. And wipe your drive.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2009

Wall Street firms regularly discard hundreds or more of old model computers, and there is a class of scavangers that pick them out of dumpsters, get them running and resell them. Used to be you could get 2 or 3 hundred in the 'hood for anything that could go online. Now, with cheap netbooks, people fill up shipping containers of these refurbished machines for bulk export. These are sold primarily to African brokers whose checks often bounce, and I've seen physical altercations while the trucks are being loaded here in downtown Manhattan, when the envelope of cash is short.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:09 PM on June 26, 2009

Our descendants will curse our names a thousand times.
posted by lalochezia at 2:16 PM on June 26, 2009

There are recycling facilities that promise not to export your e-waste.

Yeah, they had one of those on the show. And then they showed the e-waste being exported.
posted by languagehat at 2:35 PM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the PRI piece the reporter talks about seeing computers with labels identifying them as property of local councils in the UK. I'm sure they come from a variety of sources though.
posted by XMLicious at 3:12 PM on June 26, 2009

You know what just occurred to me - how quasi-biological this looks, for small national economies to be feeding off of the waste of larger national economies. Like the mushrooms that grow on dead and rotting tree limbs that fall to the ground.
posted by XMLicious at 3:16 PM on June 26, 2009

Fascinating video. I spent quite a bit of time in Sodom and Gomorrah and Agbogbloshie when I was shopping for a motorcycle. In addition to being a "digital dumping ground" (I wasn't aware of this fact), it's also a major food wholesale market, vehicle market, and one of the larger Muslim communities in Accra. And it's not just the locals that call is Sodom and Gomorrah - I bought a tax map from the city surveyor's office, and that's the official name for the neighborhood. Overall, one of the most intense market environments in Ghana.
posted by boots at 3:38 PM on June 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I wrote an entire term paper for an international politics class on the international waste trade with a focus on e-waste recycling (by the way, there's depressingly little out there about it when one considers the scope of the problem.) One of the most horrifying stats I dredged up is contained within this Greenpeace report:, on page 6. It is particularly enlightening to compare them to the WHO's safe drinking water recommendations for metals.
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:35 PM on June 26, 2009

I'm torn here, because the video itself is one hell of a downer, but I know a bunch of the grad students in question (in fact, I was at a dinner party with one of them last night-- Dan's the one on the far right in the shot at 11:41) and so it's good to see friends putting out great work and getting recognized for it.
posted by heeeraldo at 11:44 PM on June 26, 2009

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