A quick glimpse of Agbogbloshie, Ghana's notorious e-waste graveyard and one of the most toxic environments in the world
By Muntaka Chasant | 838 words | Reading time: 3 min
Young men burning electrical wires to recover copper at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ September 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
Several studies, including the works of Richard Grant (1) (2), and Jack Caravanos (3), have closely examined the informal "urban mining" of copper and other rare earth metals from waste electrical and electronic equipments (WEEE) at Agbogbloshie and their environmental and health implications for scrap workers and the city's population.
Agbogbloshie is located near the center of Accra, Ghana’s capital city.
What is going on at Agbogbloshie?
RELATED: Agbogbloshie, Ghana: An E-Waste Hell
As earth's native metals deplete, futurists are starting to point to "urban mining" as one of the ultimate frontiers in minerals exploitation.
But while mechanical processes such as pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy, and biometallurgy are frequently used to recover precious and rare earth metals from e-waste in other parts of the world, young men at Agbogbloshie use crude methods (see photos & videos below) to remove plastic sheaths off copper wires, releasing a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals into the city's air, the land and the nearby Korle Lagoon.
Agbogbloshie is also Accra's largest open-air food market.
This is how the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations framed Agbogbloshie in 2016:
"Agbogbloshie is a toxic threat. The burning of e-waste releases toxic fumes that spread throughout the community, threatening city dwellers. The toxic chemical fumes released get into the food market and get inside the soil throughout the area when it rains. Indeed, high levels of toxins have been discovered in soil and food samples, as these chemicals stay in the food chain." - FAO, 2016.
Why is Agbogbloshie Rated Among the Worst Polluted places on Earth?
Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland (2013) (4) rated Agbogbloshie among the world’s top ten most toxic environments, along with places such as Chernobyl, the 1986 nuclear accident site in Ukraine, and Dzerzhinsk, Russia’s cold war-era chemical weapons manufacturing city, often described as the most chemically polluted city in the world.
A young man breaking apart old television sets with a stone to recover aluminium at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
Scavengers roam through the streets of Accra by foot every day with handcarts, picking electrical wires and e-waste, sometimes from households, where they pay a small fee in exchange for old and unused electronics and wires.
See also: Pictures: The Rwandan Genocide
The collectors resell these wires to intermediaries (not always), who also resell them to scrap dealers inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard, and elsewhere.
The wires and e-waste are then turned over to the burners (as pictured below) to use crude methods to recover the copper inside.
You can see in the photo (immediate photo below) and the videos further below that they also increasingly attempt to recover copper from refrigerator coils, alternators, armature and certain auto parts.
A 'burner boy' is getting ready to openly burn a mixture of armature and other objects with copper imbedded in them at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
This has emerged as a major livelihood strategy in many developing countries - including Ghana.
The ''urban mined' copper are resold and exported into the global reprocessing system, where they are used in new products.
Another serious toxicity issue at Agbogbloshie is the unsafe dismantling of e-waste (such as cathode-ray tube computer monitors and other old electronics). This releases toxic substances such as cadmium, brominated flame retardants, lead and mercury into the soil.
Dismantled computer parts at Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ August 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant/atcmask.com
More Agbogbloshie Photos
Some of the photos above and the additional below probably explain why Agbogbloshie is rated among the worst polluted places on earth.
Tangled cables and wires waiting to be harvested for copper. While some are imported, a lot of the wires burned for copper recovery at Agbogbloshie that I have observed are collected locally, from households, auto repair shops, electricians, etc. A lot of these wires have very little to do with the illegal importation of computers, television and other e-waste into Ghana. So don't be too quick to start pointing fingers.
Agbogbloshie scrapyard, Accra, Ghana/ November 2018 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ July 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Cooling down freshly harvested copper.
Agbogbloshie e-waste dump, Accra, Ghana/ November 2018 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Agbogbloshie (Sodom and Gomorrah), Accra, Ghana/ October 2019 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The nearby settlement where most of the e-waste workers live with their families.
Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana/ 18 December 2018 Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
- More than 90% of the scenes in the two videos below were captured with a cell phone -
Agbogbloshie, Ghana - A short film
"Urban mining" in Accra, Ghana - A short film
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
1. Grant, R. (2016). The "Urban Mine" in Accra, Ghana. RCC Perspectives, (1), 21-30. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26241341 (Retrieved December, 2018)
2. Grant, R., & Oteng-Ababio, M. (2016). The Global Transformation of Materials and the Emergence of Informal Urban Mining in Accra, Ghana. Africa Today, 62(4), 3-20. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/africatoday.62.4.01 (Retrieved December, 2018)
3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/290519876_Exploratory_Health_Assessment_of_Chemical_Exposures_at_E-Waste_Recycling_and_Scrapyard_Facility_in_Ghana (Retrieved December, 2018)
4. http://www.worstpolluted.org/docs/TopTenThreats2013.pdf (Retrieved December, 2018)