The shocking reality of Ghana’s electronic waste dump Sodom reveals the truth about our unending need for the newer and better in Western consumerism.
Astra Zoldnere
Zoldnere is a Latvian film director, curator and publicist. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: October 25, 2018

Florian Weigensamer and Christian Krönes’ engaging documentary Welcome to Sodom brings myth and reality together. The film portrays life in Ghana’s electronic waste dump, aptly nicknamed Sodom. In its toxic and largely unhealthy conditions, men, women and children are collecting metals from tons of computers, smartphones, air conditioners and other electronic devices. Sodom is the hidden face of colourful shopping centres, shiny advertisements and the long lines for the newest iPhones.

The way our economy works

We have all heard that consumption is the backbone of economic growth. If one consumes, the winners are workers, industry and today’s God – the economy. From such sources as Cosima Dannoritzer’s TV documentary The Light Bulb Conspiracy from 2010, one can learn about «planned obsolescence». The concept is that products are specially designed not to last too long so that they need to be replaced with another model after a limited time. The lifespan of various items is artificially shortened, starting from light bulbs and nylon stockings and ending with different electronic devices. Of course, the industry also keeps developing the newer models and makes sure that it’s considered unsexy to walk around with an old school mobile phone. That’s the paradox of today – simple functional objects have become the new status symbols of our society.

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The consumption model does well. And every year 25,000 tons of no-longer-functioning computers, smartphones and other electronic devices end up in the world’s largest electronic dump Sodom near Accra, the capital of Ghana. There is evidence that most of this trash comes from the Western world. The approximately 6000 people who are illegally living and working at the dump participate in our economic game. They collect the items we don’t need, get valuable metals out of them and then sell those.

«Products are specially designed not to last too long so that they need to be replaced with another model after a limited time.»

Eventually these metals are used to create new products. It sounds reasonable, and some characters from Welcome to Sodom seem satisfied with this economic model. One of them is Americo: «I am a businessman. […] The more waste they bring, the better it is for my business. They should bring …

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