Agbogbloshie, a former fertile wetland in Ghana, is now one of the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Since the late 1990s, industrial countries have been sending their e-waste here. About 500 container loads of electronic waste arrive every month, often disguised as “development aid” or “second-hand products”. And in Christmas time, the figure rises to 800 to about 1000 container loads.
E-Waste Poses Threats to Children
Agbogbloshie is home to 40,000 people. Children as young as seven salvage copper, aluminium and other metals from the electronics. Most of them come from the poor northern part of Ghana, and end up here to earn a living. Some children save money to pay school fees.
Ghana is one of the most polluted places in the world. The boys burn old electronics to extract the metal, releasing thick dark toxic smoke, which contains dioxins, as well as heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Many children here have respiratory problems. They have high levels of lead in their blood which can lower the IQ and affect the central nervous system. Most workers die from cancer while in their 20s.
Stripping Instead of Burning
Since 2008, Blacksmith Institute, an international non-profit organization, in collaboration with Green Advocacy Ghana, have been piloting technologies to aid recyclers in replacing the burning process.
In 2010, hand wire-stripping tools were introduced. While the tools met with a small-degree of success, burning remained the preferred method.
On October 9, 2014, a new e-waste recycling facility was opened. It is equipped with four automated machines that can strip or pull apart plastic coated cables and wires of various sizes. However, it was reported that two months later, the facility is lying idle. The scrap dealers were still busily burning their e-waste to obtain the metals.
What can We do to Help?
1. The source countries should better fulfill their responsibilities required by the Basel Convention, which prohibits movement of hazardous waste (which e-waste always is) between nations.
2. Designers and manufacturers should learn and practice green chemistry and green engineering.
3. Consumers shall be more aware of the toxicity of e-waste and learn to reduce consumption of products.