Where does the electronic waste go

Where do our junk televisions end up?

Status: 07/23/2014 4:35 p.m.
by Carolyn Braun, Marcus Pfeil, Felix Rohrbeck & Christian Salewski

Millions of tons of electronic waste are generated in Germany every year. A large part does not end up in the recycling waste, but simply disappears. "Panorama - die Reporter" and the research team from "Follow the Money" wanted to know where to go. So broken televisions were equipped with tracking devices - the trail leads to Africa.

The sixth night in Ghana: We finally get a signal early in the morning. Our television moved. It is no longer in the harbor, but is now in Accra, Ghana's capital, on the corner of Abeka Road and George W. Bush Highway.

The signal is strong and precise, apparently the television has been unloaded and is now in the open air. When we reach the street corner, a container is being emptied. Hundreds of TVs are piled in the mud. A policeman sits under an umbrella and watches the sale. We ask where the goods come from. England. So no result!

The scrap trip takes 77 days

A few meters away there are eight silver Sony devices next to a house wall. We look at the back and discover our marking on one of the televisions. We pick it up, shake it to activate the motion sensor. Shortly afterwards a message appears on our mobile phone: The device has been moved. We're putting our television back on again. We want to know how his journey will continue. In the end, it will have lasted a total of 77 days until it ends at a reservoir in northern Ghana.

The export of scrap equipment is prohibited

According to estimates by the United Nations, Germans produce two million tons of electronic waste every year. All of the televisions, computers, DVD players, stereos, loudspeakers, refrigerators and smartphones contain toxic substances such as arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. That is why the export of broken electronic devices to countries that do not belong to the industrialized countries organization OECD is actually forbidden.

Much of it disappears to Africa

This is what it says in the German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act, which came into force in 2005. The federal government wants to prevent developing countries from becoming dumps for our toxic scrap. Nevertheless, only 700,000 tons of electronic waste enter the nationwide recycling system every year. Nobody really knows what will happen to the remaining 1.3 million tons. They just go away. Much of it apparently to Africa.

A hunt with tracking devices

But why? Shipping old, broken televisions several thousand kilometers across the sea costs a lot of money. Who is the use of transporting German scrap out of the country? And who deserves it? Panorama reporters wanted to know exactly in cooperation with the crowdsourcing project "Follow the Money" and equipped broken televisions with GPS tracking devices.

Together with a battery pack that is supposed to provide power for at least six months, the transmitter is hidden in the speaker boxes of the television. The transmitter not only sends us its exact position at regular intervals. He also responds to movements. If it is loaded and taken to a new location, it sends an alarm to the cell phone.