It looks like a dump in the pictures, but it's not. It's an active scrapyard. No material stays in Agbogbloshie for very long. Electronics show up, are mined for raw materials in crude fashion, and then the raw material is sold. Unprofitable material like copper cable jackets are burned.
Some of the footage I shot is in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMwLUnd_ydI
The other thing about Agbogbloshie nobody talks about: encircling the scrapyard is a huge repair yard where people fix everything they possibly can. It's only the stuff that can't get fixed and resold that goes to the urban mine.
For example, you'd think it would be worth it for somebody to set up some sort of smelter where you could bring your cables to get the plastic melted off, but when labor is essentially free and the competition is Darwinian, it's unlikely any scavenger would pay for such a service when they could just sit around an open flame instead.
And for an even more Dantean version of this, Glawegger's Workingman's Death covers a Nigerian slaughterfield in Port Harcourt. (And yes, the footage is pretty damn disturbing.)
I highly recommend the book Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter, who follows the global scrap trade.
Link to his site: http://shanghaiscrap.com/books/junkyard-planet/
Link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Junkyard-Planet-Travels-Billion-Dollar...
Its like those tent city documentary movies, think Michael Moore.
I always find it hard to relate to some tech enthusiasts that often appear to me like compulsive, irresponsible buyers.
I can't help but ask myself: can a culture shift within the IT community lead to raise awareness among the larger public?
I think a culture shift in the IT community will definitely make the message loud, but the truth is that this dump comes from businesses who deal primarily with the average consumer, not the tech-savvy minority. And until the majority cares, nothing is going to change unfortunately. Every step in that direction helps though, by all means, we as a community need to be much more vocal about this (well, be concerned first of all)
Second, if we define the mess as the act of burning things to mine the valuable minerals within, we have those already too. Recycling in US is about a 5 Billion dollar industry. Sure some of that gets exported, but much of it doesn't. We refine the materials here in a regulated, probably safe way.
Third, the issue is more around developing countries pushing their garbage to Africa. That is a complex solution. The producing country has to see it as a problem (their problem). They have to be willing to create infrastructure to process the e-waste. They also have to adjust their present manufacturing capabilities to use recycled goods rather than transform raw materials.
There might be a market solution for the third point. Maybe? A lot of that comes with time and maturity. The US polluted a lot. We didn't really start to care until the '70s. It then took twenty years to get cleaner air, ground and water. That's from an already advanced economy. Developing markets will not likely put the money into that while they try to get their people out of the muck (literally).
It sounds to me like they aren't employing anyone. They have a big scrap heap, and desperately poor individuals pick through it on their own accord hoping to scavenge some valuable metal they can sell.
To put it in terms startup types can relate to: The trash-pickers are independent entrepreneurs and the scrap yard is like Uber, facilitating their trade.
Don't joke. Scrap pickers really do believe themselves to be independent entrepreneurs with an important job to do. You push on them, they push back. Its their way of life.
I'm sorry, I laughed so hard :D. This goes straight to my quotes file under the heading "One-liners describing Uber", the third quote after the ones from here:
My advice: keep your e-waste around as an investment. Once the mines have been depleted its worth will probably go up...
On a more serious note: stop buying needless crap. Minimalism ftw.
Preferably yes, but since the waste is already there, it's a good place for a pilot program which, if it turned out to be profitable, would no doubt be copied by other nations to save on shipping costs.
> My advice: keep your e-waste around as an investment. Once the mines have been depleted its worth will probably go up... On a more serious note: stop buying needless crap. Minimalism ftw.
I support this idea strongly.
This is a matter of regulation and law enforcement.
My favorite (though fictional) example of this: http://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Harry_King
And this has all been painstakingly documented in major reports!
And the original source of the statistic that it's the biggest e-waste dump in the world, junking 80%, made it up. Look!
This is environmental malpractice.
Really with pollution the incentive in capitalism is to just pollute, and not deal with waste properly. It is cheaper almost always and following regulations if they even exist usually eats into profit.
I used to work for an environmental engineering firm that had to do some site clean-ups in a previous career. Companies hate being forced to pay to clean up their messes, its one of the big incentives not to pollute, as that certainly eats into profits.
creating less waste is a good goal too (shaving weight from a phone your going to sell millions of saves a lot of resources) or as a consumer buying less means you'll throw away less (swap in an ssd for your hard drive to keep that computer another year..).
Computers and phones keep getting better and better (more energy efficient too), so there is a strong motivation to upgrade (although this is less stong then it used to be).
Normally one would expect that in the areas were this work is done, the local governments take care of environmental and work safety regulations and laws. But they don't - due to greed, corruption and whatever.
So should, for example, OECD countries forbid export of electric waste to non-OECD countries, to enforce proper disposal of hazardous materials and recycling? I don't have very clear answers to this, because there are obvious reasons both ways (do we want to exclude poor countries from the world markets?). But I think it is a good question.
One solution is an unrealistically broad rule: If your product is found in the illegal waste dump, your company will be fined an enormous amount (to both cover properly recycling the product and health care for those who manage it).
It will be the responsibility of the Ghanaian government to properly document and report this and the responsibility of the home nation of the business in question to enforce it.
Building with easily recyclable materials is still a very very hard problem, unfortunately. Most of us just don't feel it because the damage done is well abstracted from us
 The reality is that these companies will most likely bribe government officials to exclude them from the list of offenders, given that corruption is insanely high.
Corruption anywhere on the chain is a huge problem. Apparently my country (US) isn't supposed to allow wasted shiped there, but it is anyway. Presumably if this waste wasn't going to be let in at the destination then nobody would try to ship it over (at expense).
Its a good and hard question:
The expense of electronic recycling and disposal is high enough that its worth shipping it to a place that doesn't have the expense. You want countries to be able to compete on waste disposal, but when the definition of disposal is "pollution" its not really a level playing field.
This isn't an easy problem.
The US has the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which for significantly toxic stuff, follows stuff from creation to disposal.
The norm where I live seems to be to purchase new computers, smartphones, etc. every 6-24 months (phones more often compared to computers). Whereas the more frugal people I know mostly purchase new electronics when the old item has truly and utterly died without the possibility of repair.
But assuming that will not change in the near future it seems that selling refurbished electronics at cheaper prices as well as improving the manufacturing process to use less toxic materials, could help quite a bit.
An example of refurbished electronics I saw in the news the other day here in Denmark is http://www.brugteiphones.dk/ buying up old broken iphones, repairing and selling them, they seem to be growing pretty fast.
While a computer can last a decade for most consumers, especially with the long support cycles of Windows and/or Linux' support for low-end hardware, phones are pretty much obsolete in no time: they don't get security updates, apps become unbearable (since their developers have the latest & greatest), etc.
This is one of the reasons that I argue that e.g. the EU should intervene. Phone manufactures and/or carriers should at the very least provide security updates for a reasonable period. Another option would be to make unlocked boot loaders mandatory, so that consumers can easily replace firmware.
The actual implementation is a bit more fraught e.g. http://www.electriciansforums.co.uk/electrical-forum-general... (supposed to be free for domestic purposes and therefore "invisible", but not necessarily for commercial). Especially in a context of phasing out the easily disposable incandescent bulbs in favour of CCFL or LED which aren't so safe to landfill.
Once the products have been returned they're supposed to be recycled. No doubt some of them end up being shipped to Ghana even though this is not supposed to happen.
Ultimately the solution is longer-lasting less obsolete products, but that's "bad for the economy" when the economy is transaction-focused.
If voting doesn't work then bloody revolution could be an option.
Naturally, I order the bearings I need and start taking the machine to bits. Low and behold, the tub, which can traditionally be split and bolted back together again is now sealed so you can't service it.
Now I have the choice of buying a whole new tub assembly (including drum and bearings), at £200, or just buying a whole new machine.
But really, I have little choice in the situation. A new machine won't cost much more but will come with a 3-5 year warranty. As a consumer, I only have one reasonable choice to make - but it's the one that's totally wasteful.
All of the big consumer brands spend a lot of engineering resources on planned failure. My understanding based on talking to one of the engineers that works on this for a major manufacturer is that something like 50% of certain lines, subjected to medium/high use will fail by design between 36-40 months.
Until we actually pay for the full cost of ownership, then we will continue to pollute. I'd love it if we also had to pay for the actual costs of our energy too - such as the costs that coal powered plants have on society.
I'd love that. But I need to find a new way to argue for it, since most of the time I mention CO₂ emission tax, I get accused of being a bad man who wants fuel to be more expensive.
Links to Ghana specific studies here http://news.slashdot.org/story/14/06/21/231250/uk-man-senten...