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Agbogbloshie: Africa’s Largest Ground for Dumping of Electronic Waste from World Over

BY Bir Singh February 1, 2019

Agbogbloshie. (Marlenenapoli / Wikimedia Commons)

It is common knowledge that waste matter must be disposed of in an eco-friendly manner. The same holds true for electronic waste. What if e-waste is collected, processed and sold at market in the form of utility products, bypassing the statutory and the environmental concerns? This is the story of electronic garbage piled up at Agbogbloshie, a slum area of Accra, the capital city of Ghana in West Africa.

In Agbogbloshie, e-waste is pooled up surreptitiously, processed and resold

The whole affair is a saga of cheating and circumventing rules and regulations. The damaged/dysfunctional electronic goods are pooled up clandestinely and dumped in open land. The impoverished inhabitants over there rummage through it to take away whatever is marketable. Garbage is a mix of electronic parts from automobiles, computer, and communication devices.  Cables are singed to remove their core metal. The damaged but reusable items are refurbished and repaired into a functional package and sold in the market. Copper mixed with other metals is sent to recycling firms in Europe, China, India and the Middle East. A good amount of the catch from debris is sold off in Ghana’s domestic market.

Motorcycle scrap in Agbogbloshie.

Motorcycle scrap in Agbogbloshie. (Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform / Flickr)

Agbogbloshie: Piles of photocopy machines

Piles of photocopy machines. (Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform / Flickr)

Processing of waste produces toxins and pollutes the environment

The ham procedures adopted for mining the waste are harmful for workers as well as the ecosystem of the area. Toxins produced at site find a way into the food chain, posing serious threat to flora and fauna. The air in Agbogbloshie is laden with metals and PCN (polychlorinated naphthalene). Heavy metals and flame retardants (chemicals added to finished industrial products to make them fire resistant) are detected in blood samples of garbage handlers. Neuro developmental, reproductive and fetal disorders are in noted in these workers. The land and water in the area are contaminated by toxic waste. Once a vibrant wetland replete with small wildlife, it now stinks so bad that one can smell the rot from a long distance.

Workers in agbogbloshie.

Workers recovering copper after burning wires in Agbogbloshie. (Jcaravanos / Wikimedia Commons)

Waste is sourced from industrial countries and government departments

About 80 tons of smuggled e-waste arrives here every month from industrial countries like USA, UK, EU, and Austria. Famous international brands of electronic goods, retired digital appliances from government departments and a vast range of e-accessories can be seen lying in the stretch of plastic waste at the dumping ground.       

The major quantity of the garbage reaches Agbogbloshire via Durban (South Africa), Tunisia via Bizerte, and Nigeria via Lagos. Consignment is carefully labelled and deceptively worded to circumvent the Basel and Bamako Conventions (a treaty of African nations prohibiting the import of any hazardous waste). Once the shipment reaches Ghana, it is ushered to any one of the several dumping grounds, one being at Agbogbloshie.

Waste business is hazardous for health and the environment

Is the Ghana Government oblivious to the extreme danger thriving in the heart of its capital city? Not really. Demolition of scrap work at Agbogbloshie was mooted several times. Cogent action in this direction was taken in June 2015. But it transpired that such action would only serve to shift business to some other discrete location, and the real problem would remain unsolved. Widespread unemployment in Ghana is the prime reason behind the illegal processing of e-waste. Scrap provides employment to about 6000 workers directly and 1500 indirectly. Migrant workers and young children scavenge the rubble to earn a living.

Soil at ground zero contains high-level toxic lead; 100 times higher than the contiguous land areas at a distance. Little vegetation grows in four and a half kilometer range of the dump. Air laden with toxic fumes has decimated the bird number; however, swarms of flies can be seen hovering over the vast stretch of dirt. With the rains, toxins of the waste seep into underground water. River in the locality is flush with stinking black and green waste.

Agbogbloshie dumping site

Contaminated water near the dumping site. (Lionel Scheepmans / Wikimedia Commons)

State concern is obvious, but the solution will take time

The Government of Germany announced a 25-million-euro garbage processing project for this wasteland in the year 2017. The project would facilitate buying the scrap and selling repaired, extracted and re-made products/by-products from e-waste. Nevertheless, the harm done to the host environment would take longer to go. That would require a great deal of rehabilitation, detoxification and bio-degradation work, which, as of now, seems like a distant dream.

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Fact Analysis:
STSTW Media strives to deliver accurate information through careful research. However, things can go wrong. If you find the above article inaccurate or biased, please let us know at [email protected]


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