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FILE PHOTO: A general view shows houses, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the old town in Ronda, southern Spain, April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Breaking barriers – how sustainable charity is helping reduce waste and change lives 

By Nathaniel Comer, Founder of Sun Screen IT and Sun Screen IT Foundation 

E-waste is one of the world’s greatest problems – and opportunities. Today, 80% of the world’s electronic waste is “unaccounted for”. Earth’s copper and platinum reserves are predicted to run out within 30 years; gold and silver within 15 to 20. However, over $65bn of metals lie dormant in IT and E-waste, meaning the opportunity for recycling and the circular economy has never been more important.   

In 2010 I set up Sun Screen IT, Sun Screen IT Foundation – a volunteer based project to fund and donate sustainable IT access for young people in areas of economic need. Coming from a family of teachers, education has always been a priority and I wanted to make a difference.  

The harsh realities of digital dumps 

In 2008 I met two teachers from Ghana who shocked me with their story of the hundreds of old, broken PCs that were donated to their schools in the name of charity. And, how they stacked them up to make desks, and worse still – burned them for scrap metal.  

The horrible truth is, over the last 40 years, low and middle-income countries have been the unwitting victims of a truly broken IT charity model. This has flooded West Africa, as well as many other “soft-target” nations with “donations” of E-waste – where, instead of helping they create some of the most toxic places on earth. 

18 million children1, some as young as six, pick through these “digital dumps”. Instead of helping prepare young people for a life in tech, school children in Ghana and Sierra Leone are preparing for their IT school exams using only wall posters of keyboards and mice. Unable to progress their skills and join the ever-growingdigital workforce, the cycle of generational poverty is maintained, increasing the digital divide – meaning that IT access in the majority of West African nations is essentially where the UK was 30 years ago. 

Making a difference 

I created Sun Screen IT to provide IT and electrical asset disposal services for local, national and global companies via a strategic partnership with Centerprise International. For every pallet of IT E-waste responsibly recycled or refurbished and resold, we deliver life changing IT access to 27 pupils per year. And we have delivered to thousands of pupils in places such as Sierra Leone, Ghana and the UK.  

So, what can businesses do to help? The UK has the world’s leading legislation for the disposal and processing of IT and E-waste, but even so, just a third of businesses see responsible IT disposal as a sustainability priority.  

I Sun Screen IT’s clients receive quarterly ESG reports on their impact on the circular economy – the carbon, water and raw mining savings achieved, and the life-changing education outcomes they have helped fund.  

You’ll hear stories like Marion Bome’s. In 2020,Sun Screen IT Foundation and volunteers from Cutter Group Desktop Specialists deployed a sustainable Thin-Client Computer Lab, servicing 2000 local students to the Lifeline Nehemiah Project School in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Having never had access to IT before, Marion enrolled in IT classes. She gained confidence from these regular lessons, learning how to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Photoshop. Her hard work paid off; as she built confidence to compete in a tough labour market, she landed a role as a Clerk in a financial institution in Freetown in 2022.  

Similarly, Francess Williams describes the training and support she has received at the Lab as “life changing”. She has now secured a role as a Coordinator for 2YL – 2 Young Lives – which mentors pregnant and young mothers, some of whom are also accessing IT skills thanks to the new IT Lab.  

With your help, we can create more stories like these, change more lives and make a difference.