E-WASTE FROM ANTWERP TO GHANA
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This week's investigation takes us
from Antwerp to Ghana.
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Jan Holderbeke follows the trail of
discarded computers and fridges.
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Belgium is a hub of the traffic in toxic
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Our waste is poisoning their children.
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Our Waste in Africa
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It is cold on the quay:
minus 5 degrees.
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The story of our waste in Africa begins
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A container is being emptied by
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Its bill of lading seemed suspect.
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The bill listed secondhand TVs, fridges
and computers en route to Ghana.
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An environmental officer examines
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On top of these waste tires
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we see televisions that have not been
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Such apparatus normally has to be
handled with very great care.
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We have agreed with our
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that we will regard all unpackaged
television sets as hazardous waste.
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What is so hazardous about a TV?
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The screen has powders in it
that contain hazardous heavy metals.
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The same is true of computers.
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And the CFCs in old fridges make
them toxic waste too.
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The inspectors conclude that half of
this shipment is toxic e-waste
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and cannot be exported to Third World
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The container is returned to
its shipper in Germany.
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A 4-officer unit searches
the Port of Antwerp for illegal waste:
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8 million containers a year.
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Their task is impossible. Most illegal
shipments slip through easily.
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There must be hundreds.
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That you can't stop?
- That we can't stop in time. Yes.
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The stopped container was intended
for the Julie Delmas,
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a ship bound for Ghana.
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After she sailed
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her bills of lading revealed several
other suspect containers.
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Ghanaian colleagues were alerted.
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They promised a fresh check when
the ship docked.
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It is hot on the quay: 35 degrees.
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3 weeks later we are 5 thousand km
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in the Port of Tema, in Ghana,
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This ship should have carried the
container we had checked in Antwerp.
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There is no sign yet of the check
the Ghanaian authorities promised us.
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We had arranged to observe and film
the Ghanaian inspectors,
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but this is suddenly hampered by
the Port Director.
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Stop. Look up there.
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But we still intend to find those
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We are helped by unsuspecting
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Our search is a race against time.
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The instant they find out we're banned
from filming we're finished.
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But we strike lucky.
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We find one of the containers
identified in Belgium as suspect.
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And then our fears are realised.
A car races up to us.
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To avoid further problems, we stop
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Attempt 1 has failed. We hurry away.
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We search the city for secondhand
computers, fridges and TVs...
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We are now on one of the main roads
in the Ghanaian capital Accra.
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Let's see what this secondhand
computer shop has to offer.
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Mark says he collects his computers
himself, in Birmingham, UK.
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In Africa much can be accomplished
with very simple tools.
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Some people doubt the profitability
of Ghana's secondhand shops.
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Sellers who select this carefully
are in the minority.
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Here we see a pile of apparently
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This can't work.
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This can't work.
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This one can't work.
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This one is good. The other ones are
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So you will buy this one?
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How much will you pay?
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He's going to pay 15 cedis.
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Amongst the junk there are lots of
Dutch and English books.
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There is a reason for this.
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The goods in secondhand shops were
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But here things get worse.
This is Agbobloshie rubbish tip.
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Agbobloshie horrifies Western eyes.
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For these children it is a vital source
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Using hammers, stones and their
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they dismantle our old TVs, fridges
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Freelance journalist Mike Anane
has devoted his career to this topic.
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He is now as much of an activist
as he is a journalist.
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I'm looking for tin.
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And what do you get for it?
- Me? I get money.
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But Agbobloshie is here to stay.
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They've even built a mosque there.
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Flemish MP Rudi Daems
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has been trying to stop the flow of
waste to the Third World.
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But dumping in Africa is ten times
cheaper than processing in Europe.
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The EU has relatively tight legislation
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about the export of electronics
to the Third World.
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Reusable goods can be exported,
under certain conditions.
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Waste, such as this waste here,
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Roughly half of all the electronic
apparatus sent to here from Antwerp
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is what we call 'e-waste'.
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This is illegal. So why does it happen?
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We've already heard the answer:
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In Antwerp 4 officers have to check
8 million containers.
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In Flanders roughly one third of all
discarded electronic goods
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end up where they should.
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Two thirds end up in the grey or black
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That may be with a scrap dealer,
or even in the household rubbish.
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But much gets sent to countries
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that are unable to process it
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Unless you find this environmentally
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The smoke is not going towards
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Not going towards people?
But there are people over there.
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The smoke rises above those people.
It goes up.
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The smoke goes higher?
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So it's not dangerous?
- No, it's not.
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Aren't you sick sometimes?
- Yes, I am sick.
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Are you sick?
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What do you have?
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If the heat makes you too hot,
you get sick.
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So it's not the smoke?
- No, it's not the smoke.
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Do you know what dioxins are?
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They give you cancer.
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You know what cancer is?
- Yes. I mean no. I don't know.
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In need of fresher air, we head back
to the city.
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There we engage in a lively discussion
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with some dealers in secondhand
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Economy versus ecology.
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Nowhere is the contrast as glaring
as on this tip.
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Kofi and Osman, 12 and 8 years old,
take us to their sleeping place
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in the overcrowded slums, right next
to the tip.
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The blue hut is the cinema.
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A film is being shown. We will have
to wait until it is over.
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15 of us sleep here.
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If you come to the city to work,
you end up here.
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We don't have any other place
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Our fathers and our mothers aren't
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We've come here to earn money
to take back to our home town.
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If you collect 15 kilos, they'll give you
30 thousand cedis.
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For 30 kilos, they'll give you
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We come here for that money.
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The Ghanaian government is taking
tentative steps to protect such people.
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We were promised, for instance, that
those containers would be checked.
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A day after our failed attempt,
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we are told that 6 of the 15 suspect
containers are going to be checked.
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But we are not yet allowed
to see them.
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Some 5 stamps and permits later,
we are allowed to see the containers.
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But the check is yet again delayed,
for yet another reason.
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It is incredible.
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We've spent almost 2 days collecting
all the permits we need
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to check the containers.
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There they are.
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The environmental, customs
and national security officers
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are all here.
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But the shipping line refuses to send
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and so we can't look inside these
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To our surprise, the environmental
officer agrees to be interviewed.
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We can't believe our ears.
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Ghana may have signed all
the international treaties
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banning the import of e-waste,
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but it will decide itself when to apply
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The next day one of the containers
is finally opened.
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The result is better than expected.
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The goods look sound and are
probably still usable.
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They promise to check the other
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but there's no point in us waiting.
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This was clearly a sham check,
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carried out because of political
and journalistic pressure.
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A few hundred metres farther
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men are fishing in the mouth
of the river Odaw.
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In the distance we see something
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This is water from the Odaw after it
has passed through Agbobloshie tip.
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200 metres to the west, men are
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1 km to the east, tourists are
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An enormous pipe spews filthy water
onto the sand around the clock.
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The surrounding area is jet black.
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Labadi beach, just a few kilometres
from that waste pipe.
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Here the party never stops.
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It is 'the place to be' for people from
the capital and for Western tourists.
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Elissa, Sonja and Jen are three
Americans who are studying in Accra.
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Tourism and the import of toxic
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two sources of developing countries'
income are united in this one spot.
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4 million tons of waste are brought
here each year.
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And that amount is increasing.
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Where can development aid funding
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An investigation in 2 African countries.
That's next week.
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