Pulse.com.gh logo
Go


Agbogbloshie: Ghana's 'trash world' may be an eyesore - but it's no dump

Most accounts of Agbogbloshie, the e-waste site in Accra, Ghana, persistently miss the point, writes Dagna Rams. Far from being a simple 'dump' for the world's trash, it is a huge recycling operation that pays for the wastes it receives, employs thousands of young men who would otherwise lack jobs, and plays a huge role in the national and global economy.

  • Published: , Refreshed:
play Agbogbloshie Ghana electronic waste dump

Articles about Agbogbloshie often refer to it as "a vast, poisonous dump in Ghana" or "a global graveyard for electronic equipment", where young people "trawl through the broken goods hoping to find something worth selling".

The purpose of these articles is unclear. To leave the reader with a sense of hopelessness? To suggest a simple, but rather unrealistic, solution of banning the export of e-waste from the west to the global south?

The unintended consequence of such portrayals is that they imagine e-waste as both informal and illegal, with unmarked trucks coming under the cover of the night to dump the electronic refuse and young hapless slum-dwellers sorting through it in the day.

It is true that the conditions in Agbogbloshie are undeniably difficult, but to call the e-waste a 'dump' or a 'graveyard' is to stop a conversation about how exactly it and its counterparts in other countries of the global south operate. Two features of the economy inevitably hide unexplored.

The waste is not dumped - it is purchased

The first fact that receives almost no attention is that all the scrap that comes to Agbogbloshie has to be bought first, not only from furtive importers of the electronic waste, but primarily from government institutions and private companies.

Talk to the scrap dealers and you will soon realise that the majority have their businesses registered as companies in order to be able to participate in public tenders and auctions."I recently bought a truck full of old motorcycles from the Ghana Police Service auction" one of the scrap-dealers told me while I was doing my research in the neighbouring slum. 

play Agbogbloshie Ghana electronic waste dump

 

In fact, many of the cables that often feature in the photos of Agbobgloshie get here through public tenders organised by companies such as Vodafone Ghana and Electricity Company of Ghana. It is difficult to learn the exact sums exchanged in such tenders, as the prices are responsive to international markets and what the highest bidder is willing to pay.

One of the scrap dealers I talked to mentioned that he recently bought some 7 tonnes of copper for 23,000 cedis (UK£3,900). The sums are often so big that a single scrap-dealer is unable to purchase them on their own: "we almost never have the street capital to do the business. We need to come together to share the costs."

The need to buy the scrap for recycling affects the profit margins that are made, which in turn affects the conditions of work. For example, quite recently the Blacksmith Institute has presented Agbogbloshie with wire-strippers, but arrive at any point in the day, and you will see them standing idle.

"It's not profitable to use the strippers. It takes time. We can't afford the time. Burning is much faster", explains one of the scrap-dealers. It is precisely the lack of adequate attention to health and safety that makes recycling at the e-waste profitable.

An important part of the local and global economy

The second important consideration is that despite the fact that the scrapyard is integrated into the urban economy, its contribution keeps being under-recognized.

Agbogbloshie is located on a piece of land that formally belongs to the National Youth Authority of Ghana. The Authority collects a small rent from the dealers, but at the same time they retain the right to evict them.

The paradox is stark: as youth in Accra are the main group affected by the unemployment, the Authority otherwise charged with the responsibility of coordinating the National Youth Employment Programme rents its land to the scrapyard that directly provides employment to some 4,000 to 6,000 young men.

The threat of evictions inevitably means that the place is makeshift, which stifles potential upgrades, such as the building of a health clinic in the area.

What miserabilist accounts of Agbogbloshie, but also other e-waste sites in the global south, ultimately fail to discuss is how the conditions are persistently undermined by the economic exchanges that bring the waste to the 'dump' and the lack of land rights.

The way we talk about the e-waste now suggests only one solution - ban the import of the e-waste - which is hardly realistic given that Agbogbloshie is now an important part of the national and international economy.

Dagna Rams (born Dagna Drzazdzewska) is a freelance journalist. After graduating from King's College, Cambridge she worked for think-tanks in London, including Chatham House, and in Ukraine and Ghana. She is currently pursuing an MA in Social Anthropology researching social protection in slums at the Institut de Hautes Etudes Internationales et du Developpement (IHEID) in Geneva. Find her on Twitter @dagnna

Do you ever witness news or have a story that should be featured on Pulse Ghana?
Submit your stories, pictures and videos to us now via WhatsApp: +233507713497, Social Media @pulseghana: #PulseEyewitness & DM or Email: eyewitness@pulse.com.gh.

Recommended Articles

Recommended Videos




Top Articles

1 Former UN General Secretary 10 things you didn't know about Kofi Annanbullet
2 United Nations Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan deadbullet
3 Small Scale Mining Government lifts ban on galamseybullet
4 Funeral dancers in Ghana The best funeral dancers in Ghanabullet
5 Vigilante Attacks NPP group threatens to invade Tamale Police...bullet
6 KNUST Conti, Katanga embark on 'Say No to Mixed Hall Demo' todaybullet
7 Eid al-Adha Gov't declares Tuesday public holidaybullet
8 RIP Ghanaians react to Kofi Annan's deathbullet
9 Narcotics 2 busted for drug trafficking at Aviance Cargo...bullet
10 RIP J.H Mensah laid to restbullet

Top Videos

1 Video Obinim church members confess sexual sinsbullet
2 Funeral dancers in Ghana The best funeral dancers in Ghanabullet
3 Preparing For Death Pastor makes his tomb in his housebullet
4 Video Obinim dashes woman a child from his 'Children warehouse'bullet
5 Anas Exposé "Nyantakyi gave out Nana Addo's room number to...bullet
6 Video I don't have time for sex - Obinimbullet
7 Ebony's Death Video of Ebony's soldier singing 'morale...bullet
8 Accident Truck driver survives death in accident at Taifabullet
9 Video Counsellor Lutterodt defends police officer for...bullet
10 Ghanaian child without genitals lives throughbullet

Local