While the digital divide widens computers and mobile phones fill landfill at home and charities like the Youth for Technology Foundation try their hardest to improve the lives of impoverished Africans communities by introducing computers to help them achieve independence Apple Computer has been busy getting labourers to smash a rubbish skip full of computers in a Sydney warehouse many of them in seemingly working order.
Filmmaker James Johnston (not his real name) supplements his income with factory work through several large corporate recruitment centres that routinely contract out staff for warehousing duties. Johnston assumed he was in for an everyday job until he saw what he estimated to be $200000 worth of Apple hardware peripherals and equipment.
“There were up to nine pallets” Johnston remembers “two were of MacBooks both Pro and 13 inch versions two were of iMacs two were of Mac Pro towers one had few Xservers on it and a few Mac Pros and one had Mighty Mice and a copy of Final Cut Studio â we went as far as manually tearing up the manuals.”
Assuming the equipment was all irreparably damaged Johnston and co-workers were amazed to find many of the Macs started up without any problem proving that at a bare minimum the batteries in the machines were still good and the displays could have been salvaged for spare parts. “Several machines in the first batch I was involved in had emails included in the box or taped to the outside” he recalls. “Correspondence between repairmen and Apple usually listing the problems each machine had and saying the client had asked for a replacement rather than repair.
“Someone who’d been there about nine months said Apple had replaced the units because it was too expensive to send them to China for repair.”
But instead of being stacked on pallets for re-conditioning resale or donation Johnston and his colleagues were instructed to destroy it all. “The supervisor told someone to get some tools and they came back with two hammers and several screwdrivers. They wanted us to separate the two halves of the MacBooks and smash the screens of the iMacs with hammers.
When asked who gave the order Johnston mentions another worker who represents Apple and occupies the site permanently. When the crew initially dumped the equipment into a large dumpster bin outside the facility his supervisor reported that someone had complained because the units were visible over the top of the dumpster’s edge. The next step was to use a forklift to crush the smashed Apple machinery even further down so as to render it invisible.
Contacted for comment Apple Australia Marketing Director Rob Small claimed that Apple does not smash perfectly good Macs and put them in bins. “We only destroy stock that’s either beyond economic repair or is been deemed not fit for sale to a customer again” Small added.
When asked where such machinery ends up Small was equally emphatic of the clean disposal of unusable Apple products. “Anything we recycle is done responsibly through certified recyclers. Nothing goes to landfill and we do not donate second hand products to charity or move them off-shore.”
But the photographic evidence seems to contradict Small’s claim. Does Apple really have an environmentally responsible disposal system for computers it considers ‘beyond economic repair’?
In the age of subcontracting and outsourcing such duties to external providers how many other companies are involved in making sure Apple’s wishes are carried out? And in this case which one is lax in their agreement by leaving so many apparently working Apple devices out in the rubbish?