The Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana is a massive e-waste dumpsite. While many discarded electronics found in “the digital dumping ground” come from wealthier countries in the developed world, Ghana creates much of its own e-waste. Imported e-waste usually consists of reusable electronic products. E-waste contaminates the air and soil with detrimental toxins. Despite the environmental and health impacts of improperly managed e-waste, the dump is booming with entrepreneurial activity.
The E-Waste in Agbogbloshie
Ghana imports almost 150,000 tons of electronic goods per year, which contributes to the excessive e-waste buildup in Agbogbloshie. The e-waste dump is now a vital source of income for impoverished Ghanaians and electronic scraps serve as one of the limited resources in the region. Some of the e-waste is burned, some of it is recycled and other electronic products are repaired or refurbished and resold. The problem is not necessarily the business endeavor itself, but the lack of formal recognition and regulations. Formally recognizing the dump as an entrepreneurial hub and implementing regulations could address environmental and health impacts.
The Health Impacts
In the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana, workers strip electronic cables in order to uncover “gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals.” Workers resort to “acid leaching and cable burning” to more easily and economically strip cables, but these practices release harmful chemicals and byproducts that impact the health of people and the health of the environment. Researchers from the WHO Collaborating Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the University of Queensland in Australia confirm the detrimental health impacts of exposure to e-waste. The research confirms the link “between e-waste exposure and thyroid dysfunction, adverse birth outcomes, behavioral changes, decreased lung function and adverse changes that can be seen at the cellular level.”
Reducing E-Waste Globally
On an individual level, it is possible to reduce the amount of e-waste produced. In doing so, consumers can decrease the amount of e-waste that inevitably ends up accumulating at the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana. People can refrain from discarding electronic products in the trash, thereby reducing the electronic material imported to countries like Ghana. Instead, the goal should be to reuse old products and recycle them if they cannot be reused or repaired. If personally reusing the goods is not an option, the goods can be donated to charity or passed on to family and friends.
International waste reduction is a step in the right direction, but it cannot be the sole response to the issue of e-waste. The United Nations Environment Programme states that Ghana and other countries in West Africa create 85% of the e-waste in Ghana and West Africa. This means that reducing the export of electronics from developed countries will not be enough to address the hazards of the e-waste in the Agbogbloshie dump. Since many people rely on the dump to make a living, a solution must be approached with the locals in mind and their situations of poverty.
Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP)
A Ghana-based organization called the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) takes this idea to heart. The organization encourages people relying on the Agbogbloshie dump to create and repair e-products instead of making a fast profit from recycling materials. This global network helps people create new inventions out of used products and reduces toxic waste in the process. The AMP imparts knowledge and gives advice on how to safely work with e-waste. The organization also developed the AMP Spacecraft, which is a simple blueprint for people to build affordable mobile workshop spaces. Maker Kits are “3D digital downloads of tools and instruments” for crafters to use in their inventions and repairs.
The AMP provides the support needed to ensure that impoverished people relying on the e-waste dump can still make an income in a safe and improved way.
– Esha Kelkar