Wednesday, November 24, 2004

More hidden Europe

It seems a bit odd to be writing about fridges, with the tumultuous events in Ukraine, which seem poised to precipitate that uneasy corner of the globe into a bloody civil war – or not – but my colleague will be addressing that issue later in the day, day job permitting.

So to fridges, with a startling photograph in the print edition of The Daily Telegraph today, showing a "mountain of unwanted fridges with nowhere to go".

The picture illustrates 44,000 discarded fridges and freezers, in one of four dumps in the Manchester area: there is another one of 36,000 unwanted units at a site nearby, both near the Manchester Ship Canal, with two more mountains, at nearby Chadderton and Failsworth, making an estimated 120,000 fridges awaiting disposal in the area.

But no prizes for journalist David Sapsted, who begins his piece (only in the print edition) with the words "this shocking monument to the waste of the consumerist age contains more than 44,000 fridges".

I think the technical word for this, as a piece of journalism, is "crap", although I am sure readers might have their own favourite expression for it. Fridges are bought, they are used, and they wear out. If it is a monument to anything, these fridge mountains testify to the utter fatuity of EU Regulation 2037/2000, which came into force on 1 January 2002, ostensibly to prevent the escape of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases.

It was this EU law that turned a successful and effective fridge collection and disposal sytem, with a high level of recycling, into the shambles it has become today, not least because with this law it became a criminal offence to recycle fridges and freezers.

This was actually pointed out by Christopher Booker in his column of 7 October 2001, when he pointed out that, each year three million fridges and freezers become surplus to requirements in Britain alone each year. But, at that time, 99 percent, taken in part-exchange, were turned into scrap or reconditioned by specialist firms to meet a huge export demand from Africa and eastern Europe.

Booker featured a firm called Border Refrigeration, near Abergavenny in south Wales, owned by Fred Probert, which collected fridges and freezers taken in part-exchange by major retail outlets. Most were refurbished and shipped out in containers to west and east Africa and Romania, where they were highly prized. He described how, at a port near Lagos, Mr Probert had seen his machines being carried on the heads of teenage boys to be loaded on to battered Volkswagen pick-up trucks and transported all over Nigeria.

With import duties and low wages making the cost of new machines prohibitive, refurbished freezers were snapped up not only by domestic users and ice-sellers but by doctors 600 miles out in the bush, for whom they were a lifeline to store drugs and medicines. Because Nigeria shares Britain's 240-volt system, they could not be imported from elsewhere.

Booker returned to this issue in his column of 14 October 2001, when he warned that, once discarded fridges and freezers were declared "hazardous waste" under the EU regulation, there would be "absolutely no legal way to dispose of them".

Charles Clover then picked up the story, in The Telegraph on 22 November 2001, reporting that what had made the problem particularly acute was a ruling by EU lawyers that the regulation applied not only to the CFCs used as coolant - which were being collected already - but also to bubbles of CFC in the insulation, for which there were currently no disposal facilities in Britain.

There was, therefore, plenty of evidence that this was and is yet another of these EU-made disasters, yet today's Telegraph tells us this is a "monument to the waste of the consumerist age". As I said: "crap".

Not to be outdone in the league of fatuous reporting, however, The Independent also covers the story, under the heading "Waste Britain", giving journalist Charles Arthur an opportunity to survey "the state of the nation's rubbish".

Arthur would have it that this is all to do with Britain’s failure to respond to basically benign EU laws, without realising – or informing the readers - that, until the EU interfered, these problems were being dealt with, and that they have become significantly worse since the EU interfered. This has been pointed out in previous postings on this Blog.

It really is a strange phenomenon of our time that journalists literally cannot see the wood for the trees, and fail to make connections that are obvious to those who have taken the trouble to find out.

No wonder EU gets such an easy ride when it makes its outrageous claims about protecting the environment. When journalists fail to lay the blame for the disasters that arise at the feet of those who caused them, we have another case of "hidden Europe", and the EU gets away with it once again.