What is the solution to Ghana’s e-waste dilemma?
Unregulated electronic waste recycling practices harm human health and the environment, but efforts to reclaim a toxic waste site come with their own set of challenges.
Anne Canavati, Jayson Toweh, Adam Simon, and Brian Arbic
This case study traces the life cycle of secondhand electronics imported to the African nation of Ghana from developed countries. Unusable electronics, known as “e-waste,” ultimately end up at the Agbogbloshie scrap yard, located approximately 3 km from the central business district of Accra, the capital city of Ghana. At Agbogbloshie, the electronics are dismantled by informal workers in order to extract and sell the valuable components. E-waste recycling methods include dismantling electronics for the precious metals they contain, as well as burning plastic and insulation tubing on wires to access copper, thus releasing many harmful pollutants into the air, soil, and lungs of those living and working around Agbogbloshie. The effects of these unregulated practices directly impact over 90,000 individuals in the area as well as tens of thousands of other Ghanaians who consume products from the area. The lucrative and intricate informal e-waste recycling sector has grown large and out of control in the eyes of government officials, yet the various government entities involved lack the funding and political will to do anything about the industry. The devastating impacts on the natural environment, coupled with the alarming health hazards for residents and e-waste workers, require action, yet very little is being done by any of the stakeholders.