"One man's trash is..."

"One man's trash is..."

(Posted on 29/01/20)

When you upgraded your iPhone 6 to the 7 plus or the X, where did your old device go? Maybe it was placed into the ‘bits & bobs drawer’ - This is the abyss of old AA batteries and Nokia 3310s from the good old days. Maybe you threw it in the bin, and this would have made its way to one of the 500+ landfill sites in the UK. Perhaps you considered recycling the phone at a collection point in B&Q, or your local recycling centre. If that’s the case, then your electrical waste, or ‘e-waste’, could easily have ended up at Agbogbloshie – the centre of an electrical recycling phenomena, just outside Ghana’s capital, Accra. 

At CIS, Geographers have been exploring the wonder of Agbogbloshie, and its approach to harnessing electrical waste to make ends meet in the developing world. Here, you’ll find a huge range of electricals. From TVs and wires, to washing machines and old computer screens that we probably haven’t seen since some of us were in primary school. These items to us may seem meaningless. But to those who live and work in Agbogbloshie, they are a priceless commodity that could pay for someone’s rent or for food to put on the table. 

TV’s, wires, laptops and the like are burned to melt the plastic and all the other detritus. The remaining parts of copper and metal are then sold to traders in the area, and this is how these workers make a profit. 

Agbogbloshie isn’t a nice place to work by any means. The toxic fumes and the pollution from all of the burning and dumping has put a strain on the environment and at a cost to human health. The burning of rubber and plastics from cables can lead to increased carbon monoxide levels. Most of the men in their early teens and twenties will work with very little protection from these toxic conditions. 

Ten minutes outside Agbogbloshie, you’ll discover repair shops for computers and TVs. These shops are run by self-taught engineers who salvage materials and components to sell to the community. Agbogbloshie plays a key role in the local economic development. Closing such a practice down would halt the hive of economic activity in the area and only move the issues else where. As D.K. Osseo-Asare says, “The change must come from within Agbogbloshie, not from outside”. We need to arm these workers with the potential to change their practices, and to make the site a safer and better place to work.

- Luke Cassell