Throwing away computers

When you upgrade your mobile phone because a new one has come out, what happens to the old one?

What happens when you decide your PC is running slowly, the local computer shop has a sale and you can’t resist buying a new one?

You dispose of the old one and move on.  You throw away your old computer or phone and don’t think twice.  As I do.

Or rather did.

I was the first one to call Carphone Warehouse the minute I got a text saying “you can now upgrade your handset”.  Nothing wrong with the old one but I want the new one.   Talk in the papers today of a new iPhone this summer.    How many will be bought because, well that is what we do now, isnt it?

But have you ever thought about what happens to the old one?

Mr B has a great saying when we talk about throwing such things away:  “but there is no such thing as away“.   And he is right.  There isn’t.   It sits on a tip degrading for years, or shipped off God knows where.

I came face to face with “god knows where” in Ghana this year.   As we entered the Agbobloshie slum en route to the school we saw a number of small fires burning on the opposite side of the creek.  They were belching thick black smoke.  We were told this was lads finding wires, burning them to remove the cable and then selling off the wires inside.

It was heart breaking.   Breathing in that smoke on a daily basis in the hope of making a few Pounds is causing untold damage to those boys lungs.

It made me question what we are doing in the west with the almost disposable society we now seem to live in.    Something has to change.

There is an article on the  BBC website that says

As we upgrade at an ever faster rate, campaigners are calling for action to prevent toxic, electronic or “e” waste being dumped on poor countries.

The United Nations believes we generate between 20m and 50m tonnes of e-waste around the world each year.

Agbobloshie dump site in Ghana’s capital, Accra, is a computer graveyard. But PCs are not given a decent, safe burial – they are dumped on this expanding, toxic treasure trove.

The articles talks about “101 uses for a PC”.   Yep, well the picture above shows one of the ways we saw first hand.  A step to a hair dressing salon.

Funnily enough it was right next door to a PC repair shop.   PCs from where I now wonder?  How many of these computers have come from businesses or homes in the UK who thought of nothing of tossing them out in exchange for a new one?


I also couldn’t work out why there were stalls piled high with clothes, mostly jeans, that the lads were also selling on the side of the road.   That article talks about moon boots from a ski resort finding their way out.

It’s shameful.  We throw something “away” in the UK because we don’t want it anymore and it ends up dumped in Ghana.

How can that be right?


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  • You need to talk to LEN about this!

    He is the guy that runs the Music School in Fleet we go to on Saturday’s.

    His Laptops for Kenya needs all the help it can get. Even broken laptops are being used to repair working ones, to help provide musical education and therefore educational enhancement to hundreds of children in Kenya.

    Read the story here

    So if you have any laptops, working or not, then there is no need to dump them, they can be put to great use.

  • We’ve not thrown any of our PCs away. But we do need to get rid of them, mainly as they are broken, however I am sure someone could make use of them.
    With new phones, I upgrade and then recycle (sell) the old phone to pay the upgrade cost, or if there isn’t one then the spare cash goes into savings or on the credit card.

    • But that is sort of my point Becca. And this is no way a criticism of you, I do the same…. but…. we recycle the old one but do we think about what actually happens to that handset? Who buys it? What do they do with it?

      I think many people feel they have disposed of something “responsibly” and that is the end of it. It is done then. But it isn’t. That is just the beginning of the story.