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Hazardous e-waste recycling in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana


Description:

Located in the heart of Accra, Ghana, the area of Agbogbloshie has achieved notoriety as one of the most polluted slums in the world by hosting the perhaps largest informal electronic waste dump in the world. In this area the urban poor of Accra have been spending years dismantling, recovering, weighing and reselling parts and metals extracted from the scrapped devices and from the heaps of electronic waste. [1][3][4]

The majority of the e-waste that ends up in Agbogbloshie first enters the African continent through South Africa via Durban, Tunisia via Bizerte, and Nigeria via Lagos, so shipments containing hazardous materials circumvent the Basel and Bamako Conventions due to wording and labelling tactics. Just in the years 2012, about 150,000 tons of secondhand electronics were imported in Ghana [11]. Once in Ghana, a shipment will most likely reach an informal facility in Accra where end-of-life electronic goods, including high scrap-value goods like automobiles, pile up in one of several locations in the city, like Agbogbloshie. Every day informal recyclers transform used electronic products into working units and extract heavy and precious metals (often by burning electric cables) for reuse in secondhand formal and informal markets. The e-waste that has been either refurbished/repaired or recycled will later arrive in the hands of a middleman. These e-waste intermediaries may be scrap collectors who have ascended within the industry due to their connections in Accra and with international players and/or their monetary power. Many scrap dealers are connected to international scrap firms that are located in the Tema Export Processing Zone. These entities send Ghanaian recovered copper, mixed scraps and other metals to international recycling firms in Europe, China, India, and the Middle East. These international players have greater technical capabilities and accumulate scraps from numerous e-waste hubs, thereby achieving economies of scale in recycling. At the same time, some streams of refurbished and repaired consumer goods, as well as extracted metals, re-enter the Ghanaian domestic market, where firms in Ghana secure locally processed copper and aluminum fractions from scrap dealers. The non-valuable fractions and the unusable/irreparable e-waste components either end up in a formal landfill or in an informal dumping ground to be burned. [2][3][6][7]

All these rudimentary recycling techniques practiced by informal e-waste processers, on the one hand, exacerbate the release of environmental toxins that pollute and contaminate landscapes, waters, and biota of Agbogbloshie. Waste left in fields and nearby waters is ingested by animals and marine life, thus creating entry points for toxins into non-human ecological systems, while indirectly affecting humans via consumption of fish and seafood that are dietary staples for coastal residents of Ghana, increasing their risk of cancer. On the other hand, little-to-no protective measures in use endanger not only the e-waste recyclers, but also local inhabitants, particularly children and infants. Due to the pervasive nature of environmental toxins in the local atmosphere, residents of the nearby settlement of Old Fadama and those working and residing in the central business district are at risk of experiencing high exposure levels on a daily basis. Air samples from the Agbogbloshie Market have revealed heavy metals and polychlorinated naphthalene (PCN) congeners. Blood samples of e-waste recylers have been shown to exhibit elevated concentrations of heavy metals and flame retardants. Indeed, heavy metals and chemical compounds found within electronic devices have been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders and/or fetal perturbations. [3][7] In addition, the Agbogbloshie market area is also one of Accra’s largest informal dumpsites, receiving waste from across the city, which has aggravated the sanitary conditions [12].

The organizations IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network) and the Basel Action Network in a 2018 report found that the Agbogbloshie dump contained some of the most hazardous chemicals in the world. [11] A report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency says that the waste contains many toxic chemicals, neurotoxins, and carcinogens. E-waste recyclers can develop respiratory illness, developmental and behavioral disorders, damaged immune, nervous and blood systems, kidney damage, impaired brain development, mental disability from lead poisoning, and eventually cancer. Acute or chronic exposure to toxic e-waste can be fatal. The environmental impacts are also disastrous with toxic metals flowing into the land and the nearby river, which has died. Rain washes toxic chemicals into ponds where livestock graze.

Negative human and environmental impacts, a result of informal recycling, are a direct consequence of the lack of Ghanaian government intervention. Ghana’s authorities have proposed the demolition of Agbogbloshie several times, and early operations in this direction have began in June 2015. However, the planned closure would solve the problem, but simply move it elsewhere, as also locals organizations object. The situation is even more complicated since, in absence of decent work in Accra, the Agbogbloshie site alone provides livelihood opportunities and quick cash business to approximately 4,500 – 6,000 informal workers and perhaps for another 1,500 indirectly. [1][3] 2019 reports even speak of 10,000 informal recyclers, including many recently arrived migrants from Niger, Mali or Ivory Coast [11].

Despite the outlined hazardous conditions and devastating environmental impacts of the e-waste dump, the recycling activities also provide valuable services that receive only little recognition, as also researcher Alison Stowell from Lancaster University points out. They are strongly entrepreneurship-driven, come with high skills in dismantling and repair, and follow a clear hierarchical logic in treating the different waste streams, to make the most out of the resources with limited means. The community of Agbogbloshie provides a number of services that support informal recycling, including the manufacturing of protective clothing. As the researcher argues, the provision of better facilities and a safer environment for e-waste recyclers would allow them to make a livelihood and harness their existing skills and knowledge in recycling, instead of simply moving pollution elsewhere. [10]

Also the organization WIEGO, which has been supporting the community in Agbogbloshie and other informal workers in Accra, has stressed the need for more recognition for waste pickers and informal recyclers. [10] Some recently launched projects that aim to valorize and support the recycling activities include the Agbobloshie Makerspace Place Project, which offers a space to the community to exchange knowledge and skills and design and market products. Support also came from the German Development Agency (GIZ) which in 2017 funded new e-waste recycling facilities, training, and a hospital. [4][10][11]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Hazardous e-waste recycling in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana
Country:Ghana
State or province:Greater Accra Region
Location of conflict:Accra
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Urban development conflicts
E-waste and other waste import zones
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Specific commodities:E-waste
Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Agbogbloshie is an old neighborhood in Central Accra that has become an internationally known hotspot of e-waste recycling. A large informal settlement called Old Fadama, lies adjacent to Agbogbloshie, just a few hundred meters southeast of the central waste dump where a considerable portion of recycling practices occur. While Agbogbloshie and Old Fadama are technically separated by Abose-Okai Road, they function as an extended community (the names are often used imprecisely and interchangeably) and together comprise one of Ghana’s largest urban slums. Early settlers arrived to this area in 1981; it has since attracted economic migrants from various parts of the country (typically northern Ghana) who seek employment thanks its low cost of living, including the cheapest rents in the city and, later, the presence of the e-waste landfill. Based on a research conducted in 2009, the roughly 0.4 km2 area of Agbogbloshie was home to 79,684 individuals, of which approximately 4500–6000 and perhaps another 1500 indirectly founded livelihood opportunities. More generally, Ghana’s e-waste activities sustain the livelihoods of at least 200,000 people nationwide and generate US$105–268 million annually. This amount, in 2009, represented 280,000 metric tons of e-waste that entered Ghana, of which only 1% were processed through a formal facility. The share of working electronic goods found inside a typical e-waste shipment generally is about between 25% and 60%, depending by the formal or informal status of the importers that negotiate deals with manufacturers and distributers [3] [5].

While Ghana does have a demand for second hand electronic equipment, 75% of electronics that arrive in Ghana are broken. Dealers in Accra buy the metals from between 20 and 90 cents a pound. E-recyclers earn between $6 and 10/day.

E-waste recyclers, including children, salvage copper, aluminium and other metals from electronic equipment like computers and televisions, either illegally dumped or legally exported in the form of second hand electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) from the UK, US and EU. A 2011 BBC panorama investigation found that 100 000 tonnes of e-waste is leaked out of the UK every year and 77% of e-waste from England and Wales ends in primarily in Ghana and Nigeria.

The German government announced in March 2017 a 20 million euro (US$ 21.5 million) project it says will transform the electronic waste processing system in Accra. It calls for the building of an e-waste recycling facility where materials can be brought and sold and processed safely to the benefit of the local community. [4]

Level of Investment:US$105–268 million
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:200,000 individuals
Start of the conflict:01/01/2005
Company names or state enterprises:Environment Waste Controls - other companies are involved and come from the United States of America and European Union, clients include ASDA, Tesco, Barclays, the NHS and Network Rail
PC Disposals
Micro Traders and Disposals
Sanak Ventures
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology
Ministry of Communications
Ministry of Justice
International and Finance InstitutionsGerman Association for International Cooperation (GIZ) (GIZ) from Germany
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:League of Environmental Journalists, Ghana, http://lejghana.org/contact, Greater Accra Recyclers Association, Green Advocacy Ghana, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), http://www.eia-international.org/, Greenpeace International, www.greenpeaceinternational.org.uk, http://greenadgh.com/

International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are beginning to fund and implement new pilot projects aiming to increase formal e-waste recycling. Pure Earth [http://www.pureearth.org/] (with funding from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization) and the Global Alliance for Health and Pollution [http://www.gahp.net/] opened an e-waste recycling center in 2015 with automated wire stripping units [9]

WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) [https://www.wiego.org/]
Agbobloshie Makerspace Place Project
IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network)
Basel Action Network

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Local journalists
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Noise pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases, Accidents
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other Health impacts, Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Development of alternatives:-Environmental Investigation Agency calls for better enforcement of existing legislation against e-waste in Ghana and Africa generally
-EIA calls for the UK government to continue funding the Environment Agency in order to continue intelligence-led enforcement of companies, conduct a full review of the Producer Compliance Scheme and ensure that recycling facilities have the infrastructure to recycle, tighten procedures for authorizing treatment facilities and contractors. It also suggests the construction of recycling facilities in the developing world (for more, see the EIA comprehensive report)
-Author Kwei Quartey suggests that NGOs can offer carpentry training courses to provide alternative sources of income for children, but finding employment afterward remains a challenge.
-Greenpeace calls on electronics companies to ban toxic chemicals from their products
-Green Advocacy Ghana provided 8 environmentally friendly machines to e-recyclers in Ghana to extract copper without burning. Scrap dealers want the government to support these efforts.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The EU has created new legislation to collect and recycle 45 tonnes of e-waste starting in 2016 and the Ghanaian government said it would create a bill to ban the import of e-waste. But thousands of people in the market have no other alternative income and depend on the scrapyard for a living. The e-waste business is also lucrative for large organized scrap dealers, many of whom are Nigerian, Togolese, Chinese, Indian and Lebanese.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, 2011 (USA)

No laws to regulate e-waste dumping in Ghana

EU law also prohibits e-waste exports to non-OECD countries

EU new legislation is an extension of the 2003 Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

Basel convention (1989) prohibits the dumping of hazardous waste from developed to developing countries, but the US is not party to the convention.
http://www.basel.int/TheConvention/Overview/tabid/1271/Default.aspx

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

PBS. Interactive Map. The Global Trade in Electronic Waste.
http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/map/map.html

New York Times. A Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana.
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/08/04/magazine/20100815-dump.html

Otend-Ababio, Martin. E-Waste. An Emerging Challenge to Solid Waste Management in Ghana. International Development Planning Review. Vol 32, No, 2. Liverpool University Press (2010).
http://liverpool.metapress.com/content/n1074q6606048l7m/

[3] Kurt Daum, Justin Stoler, Richard J. Grant, Toward a More Sustainable Trajectory for E-Waste Policy: A Review of a Decade of E-Waste Research in Accra, Ghana, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2017, 14, 135
file:///C:/Users/Acer%20pc/Downloads/ijerph-14-00135-v2.pdf

[2] Kevin McElvaney, Agbogbloshie: the world's largest e-waste dump – in pictures, The Guardian, 27 february 2014
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-pictures

[1] Jacopo Ottaviani, E-waste Republic, Spiegel Online, 2015
http://www.spiegel.de/international/tomorrow/electronic-waste-in-africa-recycling-methods-damage-health-and-the-environment-a-1086221.html

[6] Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J. (2015), The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany.
https://i.unu.edu/media/unu.edu/news/52624/UNU-1stGlobal-E-Waste-Monitor-2014-small.pdf

[7] Srigboh, R. K., Basu, N., Stephens, J., Asampong, E., Perkins, M., Neitzel, R. L., & Fobil, J. (2016). Multiple elemental exposures amongst workers at the Agbogbloshie electronic waste (e-waste) site in Ghana. Chemosphere, 164, 68-74
http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0045653516311201/1-s2.0-S0045653516311201-main.pdf?_tid=bbfbab0a-4aaf-11e7-ab4c-00000aacb362&acdnat=1496750609_ea45ffac8f18f9d966a5c1d91e6a5e5e

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[9] Pure Earth, E-Waste Recycling – Agbogbloshie, Ghana
http://www.pureearth.org/project/agbobloshie-e-waste/

[5] MARI SHIBATA, Inside the World's Biggest E-Waste Dump, Jun 11 2015, Motherboard
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/inside-the-worlds-biggest-e-waste-dump

[4] Isaac Kaledzi, Ghana: Germany Supports E-Waste Disposal in Ghana, 19 MARCH 2017, Deutsche Welle
http://allafrica.com/stories/201703210519.html

[8] Nele Goutier, E-waste in Ghana: where death is the price of living another day, 7th August 2014, Ecologist
http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2503820/ewaste_in_ghana_where_death_is_the_price_of_living_another_day.html

[11] Yeung, P. (2019): The Toxic Effects of Electronic Waste in Accra, Ghana. Citylab, 29.05.2019.
https://www.citylab.com/environment/2019/05/used-electronics-e-waste-landfill-ghana-toxic-technology/590341/

[12] Citi Newsroom (2019): Gov’t to construct US$43 million landfill facilities at Abokobi and Agbogbloshie. 05.12.2019. (Online, last accessed: 01.05.2020)
https://citinewsroom.com/2019/12/govt-to-construct-us43-million-landfill-facilities-at-abokobi-and-agbogbloshie/

[10] Stowell, A. (2019): How potential of massive e-waste dump in Ghana can be harnessed. The Conversation, 03.09.2019.
https://theconversation.com/how-potential-of-massive-e-waste-dump-in-ghana-can-be-harnessed-121953

Tech Graffiti: The Terrible Cost of Ghanas Electronic Waste Dump.
http://www.techgraffiti.com/the-human-and-environmental-cost-of-an-e-waste-dump-in-ghana

Al Jazeera. EU Moves to Clean Up E-Waste. (July 14, 2012).
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/07/2012714214654125296.html

PBS. Drowning in Electronics. Where the Law Stands on E-Waste.
http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/resources/ewaste.html

BBC One. Panorama. Track My Trash. (May 16, 2011).
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0116gw0

New York Times. A Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana.
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/08/04/magazine/20100815-dump.html

Meta information

Contributor:Carla Petricca, Zahra Moloo, Max Stoisser
Last update27/05/2020

Images

 

Kwabena Labobe, 10, plays on the site. His parents are not able to send him to school and forbid him to burn e-waste

(Photo credit: Kevin McElvaney)

The cheapest way to extract copper is to burn the recycled wires

(Photo credit: Jon Spaull)

Cattle at the Agbogbloshie dump

(Photo credit: Oliver Schwab)

A map of the Agbogbloshie area in the middle of Accra

(Credit: Oliver Schwab)

Burning waste at the dump

(Photo credit: Oliver Schwab)

Electronics from the Global North accumulate in Agbogbloshie's informal recycling hub

(Marlenenapoli - Wikimedia Commons)

Agbogbloshie dump

(Photo credit: Cristina Aldehuela)