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It's Not All Waste: The Complicated Life of Surplus Electronics In Africa 236

Posted by timothy
from the repurposing dept.
retroworks writes "Today's Science Daily reports on 5 new UN studies of used computer and electronics management in Africa. The studies find that about 85% of surplus electronics imports are reused, not discarded. Most of the goods pictured in 'primitive e-waste' articles were domestically generated and have been in use, or reused, for years. Africa's technology lifecycle for displays is 2-3 times the productive use cycle in OECD nations. Still, EU bans the trade of used technology to Africa, Interpol has describes 'most' African computer importers as 'criminals,' and U.S. bill HR2284 would do the same. Can Africa 'leapfrog' to newer and better tech? Or are geeks and fixers the appropriate technology for 83% of the world (non-OECD's population)? "
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It's Not All Waste: The Complicated Life of Surplus Electronics In Africa

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:35AM (#39010733)

    Obsessive Electronic Compulsive Disorder? You mean Mac users?

    • by arcite (661011) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:47AM (#39011133)
      I've worked and lived in several African countries for almost ten years now. I've helped set up computer labs, including one that was self-sufficient with solar panels located way off the grid. There is no shortage of old computer parts, they are shipped in by the cargo container. Much of the parts are broken down to get at their base elements to sell for scrap. I'm sure everyone is aware of footage showing young men ripping apart and melting computer components and poisoning themselves in the process.

      I am well aware of charities out there who like to package up used computers and sent them off to Africa, the truth is, the computers are old and mostly useless. It's not that people aren't appreciative, but realistically, setting up a refurbished CPU, monitor, keyboard, powersupply, stabilizer, ect... it takes a lot of work. It also takes maintenance and training. It takes a lot of money to do all this. Furthermore, once a computer lab has been set up, it must be made sustainable, it needs security, someone to look after it. All of this entails an infrastructure of some kind.

      This is why, it is very easy to donate computers, or to even set up computer centers and labs, but it is much harder to make them a success within a community.

      It's actually much cheaper just to source a brand new dell laptop from a local supplier than to ship in in from half way around the world. Many companies, even a few African one's have localized hardware and special low-cost versions that do not sacrifice much performance and still offer the latest technologies. A low cost laptop/netbook/smartphone uses several MAGNITUDES less electricity than a bigbox cpu. Electricity is the biggest problem, or lack of it. Anyway, the economies of most African nations are growing at 5-10%, there is a lot of money to be made in IT. There are African multimillionaire being made in every African country due to the IT boom

      I'm rambling now, but back to the e-waste, it's a huge problem, but on the other hand, if someone were to set up a properly functioning e-waste recycling business and properly employ the young men, give them training, and safety equipment, they could do a lot better for themselves.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @02:07PM (#39012451) Homepage

        I volunteered in Ghana in 2009. I set up a lab with 19 computers at a school. Today, 5 still work.

        I agree completely. I spent much of my time rearranging parts to even get Linux booting, and security training was ridiculously difficult. I was fortunate that the school had a good reputation in town, so there was already community support, and therefore less risk of theft.

        As mentioned, one of our biggest problems was infrastructure. Our electricity supply was decent by African standards, but it took three tries before the room was wired correctly. Switching hot and ground wires is a rather painful problem.

        Waste never appeared to be a big deal. In the area I was in, there were enough salvagers that anything thrown out was taken to a local shop where they used soldering irons to remove components, then those components were kept to fix broken devices. I never saw the melting over fires or the piles or toxin-containing waste, but I was in a fairly wealthy area of one of the wealthiest African nations.

      • by camperslo (704715) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @02:12PM (#39012505)

        I.T. is great, but I'd like to see some interest in raw electronics fostered too. I've wondered if some of what's considered obsolete or broken might be useful might be taken apart and used for educational or hobby purposes on a very low budget. For instance old PC power supplies usually contain some decent high voltage bipolar or MOSFET power transistors, a couple of big fairly high voltage electrolytic capacitors, various diodes, a heat sink, a fan, and other parts. Circuit boards from old monitors and television sets contain quite a few parts an experimenter might do some things with. Old VCRs have a transformer some can use. I once saw a swept-frequency spectrum analyzer built using the voltage controlled tuner module. Even dead household CFL lamps generally have a couple of small high voltage power transistors. I think it would be healthy for people to develop an interest in electronics, not just computers or programming. Turning people loose with some educational materials and sources of free parts would encourage people to be creative and experiment. Free parts can be used to build audio amplifiers and other things that experimenters might enjoy. While it is true that many components are available for very low prices from Asia, using recycled parts avoids having what little money the poor have leave their local economies. Sure, some old electronics is best ground up for extracting useful metals, but there's no reason that some useful parts shouldn't be pulled out first. Perhaps in other areas, it might even be worth encouraging the unemployed or those in some institutions to be a part of using recycled components and education that uses some of them as a resource. Being creative some ways of using these things can be found even when a commercial recycler wouldn't find it cost effective to pay people to pick parts. Of course precautions have to be taken, so that vulnerable people are not exposed to excessive risk from toxic materials or potentially imploding c.r.t.s. And people should know what they're doing before dealing with high voltages. A historic example of people that were generally creative and good at finding ways to recycle (call some cheap if you like) is ham radio operators that built projects. Who would guess that a transformer from a microwave oven could power a large transmitting tube (some of the tubes themselves being recycled from broadcast service)? Or that some of those PC power supply MOSFETs could develop significant power in low frequency transmitters? Some examples can be seen for free in back issues of Ham Radio magazine and others downloadable from archive.org http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=Ham%20Radio%20magazine [archive.org]

        Of course some of the PCs can be part of that too, speedy and alive again once infected OSes are wiped and OSS put in their place. Certainly seeing what low cost systems and OSS could do was in part the drive that led to the Ubuntu distribution. For some uses Pentium IIIs may be a better choice than P4s, the later often having much higher energy requirements. Over time for a heavily used system the difference in energy cost may be substantial, and we shouldn't forget the cost extends to environmental concerns too.

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:37AM (#39010741)

    ...only outlaws will have surplus electronics.

    • by aurispector (530273) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:47AM (#39010783)

      Africa remains a case study in unintended consequences. Nowhere else is the phrase "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" so pitifully demonstrated.

      Western liberal arrogance leads us to condescendingly believe we know what's best for Africans. It's the worst racism of all.

      • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:57AM (#39010841)
        The world's treatment of Africa has been 99% by greed, not good intentions. My friend was in the Peace Corps and realized partway through he was mainly there to pave the way for oil companies. Or the most despicable "resource" extraction of all, the slave trade. Estimates range from 10 to 28 million lives stolen. Good intentions indeed.
        • by abarrow (117740) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:22AM (#39010979) Homepage

          I've lived, worked and even occasionally traveled there for fun. It seems like everyplace you go, any efforts, by anyone, to move the civilization forward are stymied by a history of internal conflict and corruption. Did European influence help or hurt? Impossible to tell, but it is what it is. In Angola, for example, the nationals decry (and so they should) the terrible oppression of Portuguese - it was a terrible time for them and Portugal should be ashamed of how they treated fellow human beings. But, but, Angolans will also tell you that the day the Portuguese left the infrastructure started to crumble, and hasn't been the same since. The capital city of Luanda looks almost frozen in time (if you don't look too closely at the crumbling brickwork and potholes in the street).

          Should the invasion of Africa by Europeans never have happened? Perhaps, but you can't change that now. Saying that external influences are raping the continent is just stupid - the smart countries are taking advantage of their natural resources as they have a right to do. In the case of oil, without exception the national oil company of that country is (actually has to be) a partner in the production, and tax rates are at least 50% on everything that is taken out of the countries. I fail to see how that is disadvantaging anyone.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            ...will also tell you that the day the Portuguese left the infrastructure started to crumble, and hasn't been the same since.

            When the British left, the same happened to India. The British built some wonderful rail roads and now look at them.

            The trouble is that the countries mentioned have identified themselves as victims of Western colonialism and like all who identify themselves as victims are unable to move on.

            Although, India seems to be snapping out of it - in my humble Cowardly opinion ....

          • by timeOday (582209)

            In the case of oil, without exception the national oil company of that country is (actually has to be) a partner in the production, and tax rates are at least 50% on everything that is taken out of the countries. I fail to see how that is disadvantaging anyone.

            Oil money built Khadafi some nice palaces didn't it?

            The plight of Nauru after a windfall from phosphate mining [cnn.com] perfectly illustrates what happens when resource extraction displaces local industry and culture and then peters out. There is nothing

            • by abarrow (117740)

              I agree, corruption and greed (internal and external) has been one of Africa's biggest problems. I'm sure that folks who are into anthropology and ethics have a great deal to study when they think about many African countries. Who's to blame? I'm sure there have been more than a few doctoral thesis written on that subject.

              The idea that external influences should be taken away is a little like the the people in the US demanding that some national parks be returned to their natural state: what they don't seem

          • But, but, Angolans will also tell you that the day the Portuguese left the infrastructure started to crumble, and hasn't been the same since. The capital city of Luanda looks almost frozen in time (if you don't look too closely at the crumbling brickwork and potholes in the street).

            But what have the Romans ever done for us?

            Should the invasion of Africa by Europeans never have happened? Perhaps, but you can't change that now.

            Perhaps, but it was inevitable. That's what happens to weak nations. Or in this case, a collection of weak nations either fighting one another or at least refusing to help one another. A lesson to all nations, to be sure.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        So tell us, what do believe is the correct course of action? Leave them all to kill each other over millennia old tribal conflicts? Leave people like Mugabe running the show?

        Almost without exception, every African country has slid backwards at an alarming rate since they were granted independence from the European countries who conquered them. It's almost as if they want to be illiterate, sick, poor, violent idiots. Look at South Africa over the past twenty years for a great example: most native South Afr
        • by polar red (215081)

          Leave them all to kill each other over millennia old tribal conflicts?

          Those millennia old tribal conflicts are rather recent, and spurred on by western companies delivering weapons to local warlords in exchange for free extraction of resources.

          • by ChatHuant (801522) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:37PM (#39015413)

            Those millennia old tribal conflicts are rather recent, and spurred on by western companies delivering weapons to local warlords in exchange for free extraction of resources.

            I don't know what to make of this statement. It's a very stretched interpretation of history. I'd say it's stretched so far it's very close to pure unadulterated lying. The history of the African continent suffers of a scarcity of written material, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the information we have completely contradicts your assertion. Africa (as a whole) wasn't ever a loving peaceful society, before or after the arrival of the "evil western companies", as you imply. It always had its share of wars, military conquests [wikipedia.org], bloody battles and so on, just like all other continents. Look at North African history, which is better documented, due to the formation there of large statal structures, and to its closeness to Europe: you'll see the huge wars Egypt was involved in millenia ago, complete with genocides and other fun events. You'll see the often bloody fights between Islamic groups, and the military Islamic conquest of North Africa [wikipedia.org] - all before the 15th century, when Europeans started seriously entering Africa. The things we know about Sub-Saharan Africa indicate the same pattern (keeping in mind that fewer really large statal formations existed there). Look at the Mali Empire [wikipedia.org] and its military expansion during the 13th and 14th centuries (which expansion included razing of cities and enslaving of conquered peoples - see Ibn Battuta's [wikipedia.org] description of his return from the Mali Empire on a caravan that transported 600 female slaves to be sold in Morocco).

            Further south, look at the Kingdom of Kongo [wikipedia.org], who was founded via the military conquest of the kingdom of Mwene Kabunga. The Kingdom of Kongo used his expansion wars to obtain slaves; slavery was well established in Kongo, and later, when the Portuguese arrived, slaves became one of the kingdom's exports. Even further south, we have the lesser Kingdom of Mutapa [wikipedia.org], also born of conquest, who warred against the neighboring Butwa empire. This pattern exists in pre-colonial Africa almost everywhere you look. Kingdoms or empires are formed and destroyed through military conquest, dinasties rise and fall, sometimes entire tribes or peoples are destroyed or displaced.
             
            Surely, the "evil western companies" made full use of the "divide and conquer" approach, used the internal dissensions of Africa to their advantage and sometimes caused them. There is no doubt about that. However, saying the conflicts are recent and implying they didn't exist before the arrival of the companies takes you beyond the simple political correctness frontier and drops you straight into the bullshit area.

        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          Don't forget about the all the problems that happened when that spaceship settled in over Johannesburg.... What a mess that was!

      • by Teun (17872) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:06AM (#39010883) Homepage

        Western liberal arrogance

        Liberal arrogance?

        If there is such a thing a Western arrogance towards Africa it would most likely be from the conservative (stagnant) side of the political spectrum.

        Europe has banned the export of any waste to any place, the ban is most certainly not limited to electronics and or Africa.
        This ban came into effect after many cases of dumping of dangerous substances with terrible consequences for the receiving countries and people involved.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Opportunist (166417)

          Ok, so much the PR, now for reality. As the article said, most of what we export as trash is being reused and recycled. The "terrible consequence" we're fearing most is that we send them resources and even pay them to take them, too. The dumping of dangerous substances is pretty much what happens when they rework our trash and create something useful out of it, and due to less strict environmental laws... well, capitalism at work.

          The biggest danger we really fear is that they not only have cheap labour but

          • by Teun (17872)
            The reality is that in all the more advanced EU countries landfills are only used as a last ditch solution for the absolute last dredge of low toxic and non-recyclable stuff but regrettably there are still countries dragging their feet.
            On the 19th. of January this year the EU parliament agreed with new regulations aiming at 85% recycling in 5 years time.
            Especially anything with plastics, glass or metal in it goes to specialised shops where it's separated and made ready for reuse.
            A recent (HP) computer I
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Typically, Conservatives aren't the ones who have any views on how Africa should be dealt with - either positive or negative. Theirs is pretty much a hands off approach - perfectly happy to let Africans decide what they want to do in their own countries. It's Liberals who have those grand solutions for the rest of the world.
      • by sgtrock (191182)

        While I have no argument with you that self determination is the best way forward, the automatic assumption that colonialism was an umitigated disaster is also false. See one of my earlier posts [slashdot.org] discussiong what I found on Gapminder [gapminder.org].

    • by ShavedOrangutan (1930630) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @11:49AM (#39011523)

      ...only outlaws will have surplus electronics.

      Already done in the U.S. (In my county, at least.)

      I was dropping off some scrap metal for recycling at my local landfill and noticed some awesome hardware sitting in the computer dropoff area. So I tossed a couple of cases and a monitor in the back of my truck. The landfill attendant immediately came over and made me put it all back. They must be getting paid for this stuff as scrap and aren't allowed to let the general public walk off with any of it. Even worse, as a resident, I would have to pay per item to drop off anything. So they're double dipping, too.

      It was good stuff. Better computers than anything I own. People throw away nice computers just because they load up with malware.

      Same with my company. When someone gets a new laptop, the old one is taken away. Years ago, people used to be able to take home old PCs.

      • That's what happens when hardware gets so mass produced the point of being a cheap commodity. Eventually time costs more to fix or refurbish a computer than it is to outright replace it with something newer and better. It's also one of the many reasons cloud computing based web services are so popular. It can be accessed regardless of the platform or device you're on.

        The real money in IT can be found in innovation and replacement. Maintenance and support of aging technologies is for the crows. It's the one

      • by Lazarian (906722) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @06:46PM (#39014547)
        Same story here in Edmonton. At the so-called recycle depot near where I live, I found all sorts of neat stuff. I found a couple really decent laptops which seemed the only thing wrong with them was windows got dosed up with viruses. Installed linux mint on them and gave them to my nieces. At the time the employees didn't mind if a person grabbed a goodie here or there, but now nobody can take anything at all. All that stuff gets the cords cut off and thrown into shipping containers in the back compound. It's enough to make a geek cry seeing all that neat stuff get trashed. At least I was able to get a couple nice computers out of it while it lasted.
  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:41AM (#39010751)
    It seems like electronics are used for a shorter time in US than in developing countries
    As an example, cell phone(smartphone) lifecycles seem to be 1-2 years for US customers but 2-5 years for the Indian markets
    Similarly, you wont find people having an issue with using a 3-4 year old PC built out of reused components as long as it does the work it is intended for
    As an example, many cybercafes and print shops still run p4 based desktops, they simply dont need more power
    • by Teun (17872) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:55AM (#39010827) Homepage
      A good example is the present Slashdot poll about 3D TV, I don't have 3D (nor HD) and is primarily because my present 10 y/o flat screen works fine and I won't buy a new TV till the old one has given up.

      The poll options given imply you'd buy an other TV just for the sake of some new and still to be proven tech.

      • by yodleboy (982200)
        yeah i think this a key point that a lot of the 3D haters miss. The reason home 3d isn't taking off is not because people don't want it or have a phobia about wearing glasses in front of the TV. The reason is that so many of us spent a crap load of money on a new lcd/led/plasma/DLP in the last few years and those expensive TV's are still fully functional. The TV industry seems to think their product is on a cell phone like upgrade cycle. Sorry guys, I spent $2500 on a 65" DLP maybe 6 years ago and it
    • As an example, many cybercafes and print shops still run p4 based desktops, they simply dont need more power

      The public library near me still runs desktops with AthlonXP (or something), 256MB RAM, and Windows 2000. My own computer is 4.5 years old, and I'll keep using it till it gives out. As compared to years past, it really isn't that far out of date.

      • some systems from that time have bad caps even more so the P4 systems.

      • The public library near me still runs desktops with AthlonXP (or something), 256MB RAM, and Windows 2000. My own computer is 4.5 years old, and I'll keep using it till it gives out. As compared to years past, it really isn't that far out of date.

        Mine's an Athlon XP 2100+, and somewhat older than that. I'm considering replacing it, but mainly because nVidia have dropped support for the graphics card and Nouveau is unstable as hell (and this is a lesson I have learnt from and will never buy nVidia hardware again - if it doesn't have an open driver I don't want to know about it).

        Notably, the 2 things that I notice it being too slow for are:
        - Playing Vimeo videos... I have no clue how they made their player so damned inefficient, but I get ab

        • Notably, the 2 things that I notice it being too slow for are: - Playing Vimeo videos... I have no clue how they made their player so damned inefficient, but I get about 2 frames per second in a tiny box in the browser. Meanwhile, mplayer will happilly play 1080p H.264 content just fine on the same hardware.

          Blame Adobe for this one. Flash has gotten VERY inefficient in its later versions. Its much MUCH worse on old PowerPC Macs. I used to be able to view 360p videos on YouTube no problem on a 1.25Ghz G4 Powerbook, now 240p is barely watchable and the machine is ready to burst into flames.

        • - Playing Vimeo videos... I have no clue how they made their player so damned inefficient, but I get about 2 frames per second in a tiny box in the browser. Meanwhile, mplayer will happilly play 1080p H.264 content just fine on the same hardware.

          This is all Flash. For years Youtube would struggle on a PIII, and if you went full screen you'd get 0.5fps (and see it scanning!) The CPU would be pegged.

          Meanwhile you can take the .flv file and play it in VLC (or whatever), full screen and get smooth graphics and 30% CPU usage.

          They claim newer versions have hardware acceleration, but I think that's only for GPUs with native H.264 decoding. For everything else it keeps scribbling in the 2D frame buffer with a crayon.

          You also get useless Flash menus (or ads

          • This is all Flash.

            Yep, Flash is pretty bad. And yet, Vimeo is an order of magnitude worse than Youtube (although I note that recently Youtube seems to have got worse. I can't make up my mine whether this is down to Youtube itself or because my Flash plugin / browser might've been "upgraded" at some point...)

            It seems to me that most of the "advances" in computing these days seem to involve using less and less efficient languages to do the same old thing, meaning that you end up having to upgrade purely because of this, rath

    • by arcite (661011)
      Most Africans use their phone to access email, twitter, SMS info, this does not require the latest hardware. There are African versions of Android/Nokia/samsung phones that aim to maximize cost and battery life. One can buy a decent smart phone for under $100 for example. The cheapest Nokia phones that can access the internet cost around $30.
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      It's called disposable income. We have it in spades. They do not. Necessity is the mother of invention, and poverty is the mother of reuse.
    • by Larryish (1215510)

      I live in the U.S., and have 9 machines on the home network.

      The newest machine is my wife's work laptop. It is 5 years old.

      The other machines are anywhere from 7 to 9 years old, with the exception of my laptop-as-an-ebook-reader which was built in 1999.

      All of the machines perform very well for work and media.

  • by Katatsumuri (1137173) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:52AM (#39010819)

    Used hardware is excellent value when you are on a shoestring budget. I think a lot of school kids and students in Africa would find it attractive. Yes, there are new tablets and notebooks available today starting near $100. But even that is a lot of money to some, and used tech can often be had for free, or the cost of shipping. Also, arguably you can often get much better used hardware for the same money. And tinkering with it also trains people to be hackers and know their hardware well. So, overall I think such reuse is good.

    A huge disadvantage is the environment damage when that hardware finally gets thrown away. Normal western schemes like including recycling in the price and handling it through dealers and agencies is hardly applicable here. There has to be direct financial incentive for both the old hardware owner and the recycling center to handle this properly. So maybe if EU really wants to help, they should try to organize a network of recycling shops. But this is probably more difficult than simply banning the export officially and ignoring the black market.

    • Actually AFAIK the only thing banned from export is non-working stuff (i.e. waste). Working used stuff can be exported just fine.

      • Even woth non working stuff, its often feasible to repair it easily, or cannibalise components from 2-3 devices to make a complete device.
        5 laptops with a different part failed in each can be converted into 4 functional laptops after all
      • by Katatsumuri (1137173) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:51AM (#39011157)

        Yes, I was fooled by the slashdot summary (yeah, yeah), which said "EU bans the trade of used technology to Africa".

        Some sources for those interested in the actual legislation:

        Summaries of legislation: Waste electrical and electronic equipment [europa.eu]
        "The European Union (EU) is taking measures to prevent the generation of electrical and electronic waste and to promote reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery in order to reduce the quantity of such waste to be eliminated, whilst also improving the environmental performance of economic operators involved in its management."

        Business Link: Exporting WEEE [businesslink.gov.uk]
        "You should export waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) only if you are sure that it will be recovered or recycled safely in the receiving country."

        So yes, exporting old hardware for reuse is okay. My apologies to EU.

    • A huge disadvantage is the environment damage when that hardware finally gets thrown away.

      If I'm not mistaken, much (if not most) of the environmental damage results from the initial production of electronic equipment. With that fixed cost, it's simply good to keep equipment in service as long as possible - regardless who does that.

      Another big cost is that of running the equipment, that is: energy use (mostly, other factors might be repairs / transport / consumables). For a while PC's have gotten increasingly power-hungry (CPU's up to 100W+ TDP, actively cooled videocards etc), so an older PC mi

  • Local Cost (Score:4, Informative)

    by CambodiaSam (1153015) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @09:55AM (#39010829)
    I've seen Cambodia's IT infrastructure improve over the last several years, but they still rely on much older, used equipment as their primary source of hardware. The most basic factor is cost. For someone earning about $100 a month (generally considered middle-class and able to reasonably sustain a small family), the prospect of a brand new computer, phone, or other device is unthinkable. Even a PC setup with monitor, UPS, keyboard, and mouse will run you $250. It'll be about 4 years old, but it runs Windows XP or Vista quite well because of lack of service packs. Plus, it's fully loaded with software since the concept of copyright hasn't been fully embraced.

    I guess if you could bring low cost, reasonable electronics to the developing world they would embrace it instead of used equipment. I'll let you know when I see it for sale on the streets of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. For now, it's all used PCs (mostly Dell and HP) and Nokia phones.
  • That 15% can still do a huge amount of damage. We should be focusing on making all electronics easily recyclable, setting up clean recycling facilities in Africa or wherever, and creating long-term storage for the rest. Oh yes, and write better software so upgrades are minimal.

    That 15% is still a huge problem, IMO.

  • by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:00AM (#39010865) Journal

    The big manufacturers like Dell have been trumping up the 'eWaste' issue for years now. They do it to make sure they yank all the old hardware out of the secondary (used) market where it inteferes with new equipment sales.

    My local situation is typical. We don't (yet) have to pay a 'disposal fee' to get rid of the 'untouchable' evil-awful old computer equipment, but the local Goodwill is the place-of-choice to donate them to. And Dell has a 'bounty' deal going with Goodwill, to pull all PeeCees out of the donation stream and never, EVER put them out for resale.

    A lot of us got our start playing around with Linux on multiple PCs (networking) using castoff PCs that there are agents now actively making sure are not 'just lying around' for us to fool with. It's quite possible that a lot of that wouldn't happen in today's environment.

    • That's too bad for Goodwill. For what it's worth, the local pawnbrokers here in my neck of the woods all deal in used PCs, so if you're feeling charitable, you could sell your old PC to a pawnbroker and donate the proceeds to charity.
  • I'm having a hard time understanding why the EU would want to forbid the export of used electronics to Africa. Are they afraid they are just going to get dumped there? It would seem to me that it would be beneficial to send any type of used electronics there (given that they aren't more that a few years old and in working order). Not only would it provide affordable and useable technology, it would assist in education,as well as provide jobs in that locals would need to learn how to maintain them. As mo
    • by Teun (17872)
      Regretfully the corrupt world of waste trafficking has made it impossible to have a sustainable trade in used electronics with African countries.
      There are many examples where the parts were disassembled in totally unsafe conditions and often involving child labour with the waste being dumped on the road side just out of town.

      Properly disassembling old electronics is an art that requires large up front investments that are never going to happen in Africa.
      Africa has enough electronics waste of their own wi

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:03AM (#39010877)

    Ban the sale of reusable goods to countries fully capable of using them and force them to buy new stuff they cannot afford. This whole planet's gone mad, I tells ya', MAD.

    I'm beginning to regret knowing my grandparents. They taught me to fix what could be fixed and only replace what you finally cannot fix. I'm writing this on an old CRT monitor that a friend gave me because the image was getting too dark. I did a little research, found that changing out a single resistor would brighten up the image for another ten years or so and it's still working. Meanwhile, he's using a "new" LCD monitor that's starting to suffer pixel dropouts as it ages. When the power supply fan bearings get noisy, I replace the fan in the power supply. I've even replaced capacitors on motherboards and in power supplies rather than replace the whole unit.

    God, I hate using this term but if that isn't being green I don't know what is. In the old days it wasn't called being green. It was called being frugal (or, if you weren't Scottish in background, being cheap. :-)

    (I'm in Canada, btw, not Africa.)

    • It's not necessarily more environmentally-friendly. Your older equipment probably uses more electricity than newer equipment, which is the main reason/argument in developed countries for ditching it and just buying new. Older equipment is so cheap the cost is close to $0 in some cases (dumpster diving, I'm looking at you), so it's more convenient to use older equipment, especially when its performance can be really boosted (replacing Win95/98 on '90s to 2000s whiteboxes with some Linux or another).

      I still

      • by toddestan (632714)
        Compared to the energy (and resources) to recycle and manufacturer electronic equipment, the energy to run it is peanuts. Really, the most green thing to do is to squeeze the most life possible out of the equipment, rather than the throw it away and replace it with new culture that seems to be norm.
    • by arcite (661011) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @11:00AM (#39011213)

      Ban the sale of reusable goods to countries fully capable of using them and force them to buy new stuff they cannot afford. This whole planet's gone mad, I tells ya', MAD.

      I'm beginning to regret knowing my grandparents. They taught me to fix what could be fixed and only replace what you finally cannot fix. I'm writing this on an old CRT monitor that a friend gave me because the image was getting too dark. I did a little research, found that changing out a single resistor would brighten up the image for another ten years or so and it's still working. Meanwhile, he's using a "new" LCD monitor that's starting to suffer pixel dropouts as it ages. When the power supply fan bearings get noisy, I replace the fan in the power supply. I've even replaced capacitors on motherboards and in power supplies rather than replace the whole unit.

      God, I hate using this term but if that isn't being green I don't know what is. In the old days it wasn't called being green. It was called being frugal (or, if you weren't Scottish in background, being cheap. :-)

      (I'm in Canada, btw, not Africa.)

      My guess is you have never seen how ewaste is 'recycled'; picture pre-teenage boys using the crudest tools (or their bare hands) to rip apart electronics, including monitors (that are chockful of cancer causing agents), pound the pieces into powder, then melt them down in makeshift smelters (no masks here, just breath in the fumes), then cook out the chemical elements. Most of these kids have brain damage from exposure. Most will get cancer and die painful deaths. Lets also not forget that while they surely get paid something for their labor, in all likelihood they are virtual child slaves. My guess is your sensibilities make you incapable of imagining the abject horror of their existence.

      Some perspective on the reality of the situation would be advised.

      • @arcite, I did live in Africa, two and a half years. RTFA, the kids you are describing are working on AFRICAN GENERATED equipment, which was in use for a decade. The resale shops accept it as a trade in. Banning the export from rich nations, when demand is still there, causes lower quality imports which fail faster and give the boys more to burn. Per the article, Ghana alone has 30,000 repair/reuse/tinkerers repairing electronics, and per the article, these make 10 times more per hour than the underpriv
    • *When the power supply fan bearings get noisy, I replace the fan in the power supply. I've even replaced capacitors on motherboards and in power supplies rather than replace the whole unit.*

      That's _exactly_ what I try to do here. When my old computer died and couldn't be repaired, I salvaged an old Optiplex, recapped it and I'm typing this message on it. Cost about 5-10$ in caps and about an hour to take the mobo out, recap and put everything back in. My Media Center is starting to act up, so it will get re

      • A very large number of electronics from the '90s and 2ks simply fail due to cheap capacitors. Why is it a 2005 motherboard has to have its capacitors replaced while my old NES and C64 still work fine? My 1994 receiver also has issues while a 1973 receiver still works fine...

        It's crazy how true that is. During the last 10 years, "have you checked the caps" has become the standard electronics answer, and so often it actually is the source of failure.

        • by karnal (22275)

          My receiver from that same era had an issue with cold solder joints. I wasn't sure why it kept going into "protect" (yay sony) - but when I viewed the boards inside directly, you could see that there were physical breaks on the solder joints; looked like a crusted circle under magnification (digital camera using macro mode.)

          Might be worthwhile if you want to resurrect it to look for this (my bad, I replied to the wrong poster...) It didn't save me any money - I had already bought a replacement for it, but

      • by nbauman (624611)

        I have an LCD monitor with a blown power supply sitting right here in my apartment, waiting to get $20 worth of capacitors.

        I am familiar with the feeling of turning on the power switch and having a once-dead computer or something turn on again, but unless you enjoy doing it, it isn't worth the time.

    • Oh wow, and I thought I was the only person crazy enough to do component-level repair on consumer kit :)

      I've got two testbench monitors -- an Acorn AKF17 TV-sync display (a Philips CM8833-II with a different label and a few less connectors) and a Viewsonic VX922.

      The power switch on the Acorn broke - I jammed a plastic toothpick in there to hold it in. Still works fine.
      The Viewsonic suffered the effects of Capacitor Plague. £15 worth of new name-brand (Panasonic, specifically) capacitors and it works f

    • lol no, you only think you're being frugal.

      Hook up a meter to all your equipment to find out how much electricity it's using. Then do the same on some new equipment.

      Odds are, you're wasting rather a lot of money on electricity for the sake of running your "frugal" noisy ugly old components.

      It's a bitch, really...I'm highly sympathetic to your point of view. It's just the reality of it is that the newer stuff generally really is *better*. And much of the time it's cheaper to buy that new st
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I spent 2 months in Swaziland, Africa in 2005 with some missionaries there. It was shocking how expensive new tech was there (3-10x more than USA). Internet in the entire country was 28.8 dialup to a geosync satellite backhaul to Johannesburg. My missionary friend's internet + cell phone bill was in the neighborhood of $500.

    I knew it was bad before I left so I downloaded as many security/OS/application updates and free applications and took them with me. I spent a good bit of time just going around to m

  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:36AM (#39011063)
    Why doesn't Linux own the desktop in Africa - Or does it? I would figure a FreeAsInBeer OS would be ideal for developing nations? Why don't we hear about millions of Linux desktops in Africa?
  • Supposedly, there's a similar issue with used medical equipment and supplies. I've heard of charitable donations getting into trouble because it was considered to be illegal export of medical waste.

    • by mikael (484)

      Some medical equipment can contain radioactive isotopes - really strong stuff. Scavengers don't know this, and start pulling things apart, exposing radioactive elements. "The Goiânia Radiation Incident" is a text book example. [bev.net]

      A cesium-137 radioactive source was left in an abandoned clinic in the city of Goiânia, capitol of the Brazilian state of Goiás. Scavengers took the massive device, gouged out the iridium window, which allowed high gamma radiation and a beautiful blue light to escape, an

    • by nbauman (624611)

      There was some trouble with that.

      There were major diseases (not AIDS) spread because Western health workers were vaccinating people with reusable needles and not sterilizing them properly.

      There are even local "healers" who use injection drugs indiscriminately, without proper sterilization, and also spread diseases, including AIDS.

      They also use anti-malaria drugs, anti-tuberculosis drugs, and antibiotics used at sub-therapeutic doses and cause drug resistance, a problem that comes back to bite us.

      Of course,

  • by decora (1710862) on Sunday February 12, 2012 @10:56AM (#39011183) Journal

    as soon as we can print out our own chips, none of this will matter.

    you know the 'Arab Spring'? Well, most of it was in Africa. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya - all African countries. The guy who started Ubuntu? African. These folks are on the forefront of tech, they just have been barred from access to capital by corruption.

    • by arcite (661011)
      Mod up! Those who blame colonialism are in the past. African solutions for Africa is where its at.

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