Junkyard of the West

Country/area: Poland

Organisation: Outriders

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 30/09/2021

Credit: Tadeusz Michrowski – author; Juan Carlos de Jesús Ramírez González – infographics


Tadeusz Michrowski is a Polish writer and a journalist, working with an award-winning newsroom Outriders since 2020. Before that he worked as a freelance journalist for few years and had his pieces published in many of the country’s top media. He covered mainly South Africa and supported the Polish Centre for African Studies with his analysys. In 2021, the Junkyard of the West was nominated to the Polish Grand Press award.

Juan Carlos de Jesús Ramírez González is a Mexican illustrator and a visual journalist. He cooperated with multiple international media.


Project description:

Every year millions of second-hand cars are exported from the USA, the EU, and Japan to West Africa and non-OECD countries in general. With them, rich nations “outsource” pollution, a higher risk of accidents, and the responsibility for the safe disposal of old automobiles. Paradoxically, a buyer in a less wealthy country has to pay even a few times the car’s worth in the West. 

Impact reached:

The article was published on the Outriders page as well as on the organisation’s social media. There was also a short “trailer-story” published on the pop-site joemonster.org where it gathered 60 000+ views. There was a Discord meeting on the issue. In November 2021 the story was nominated for the Grand Press – Poland’s top journalism award in the “specialized journalism” category.

Techniques/technologies used:

The article consists of the story by Tadeusz Michrowski and infographics prepared by Juan Carlos de Jesús Ramírez González. It was put together in WordPress by Tadeusz Michrowski, using the internal Outriders’ tool created by Piotr Kliks from the Outriders team. We use Vanilla JavaScript for frontend interactions/animation.

What was the hardest part of this project?

As much as it is hard to find people talking about the export of the old cars, there is literally no one willing to talk about the “spare” parts market as this one is the most shady. Therefore, there is not much data on it. Even the government of Netherlands or the UN reports don’t mention that issue. I have spent few months trying to find somebody who would be willing to shed some light on it. I managed to get the people from the inside to recommend me but I was still unable to get somebody to talk to me. I finally found a person who ceased to do this and emigrated to Western Europe – it was that person who told me about how this business exactly works. And even then this person wasn’t willing to have their personal details published.


What can others learn from this project?

I think the storytelling and the clever management of scope would be the biggest “lessons taken”. The article is a bit less than 6000 words, plus the infographics, which is a lot, of course… but I seriously doubt that any journalist in Europe until now offered a piece so comprehensive on the issue. The material I gathered could easily turn this into a book and the story was cut multiple times to make it as consise as possible.

In those 6000 words you get information from multiple international reports, statistics as well as the results of investigation on the issue in Central Europe and all of this is presented in an impartial and clear way. The storytelling was appreciated by people who never expected to find themselves reading about used cars. 

What I find the most pride in is that even the people who agreed to talk to me and knew well that position that I’m coming from is critical towards what they do, found the story well-balanced and truthfull. 


Project links: