PRESS RELEASE: Agbogbloshie e-Waste Investigators Claim "Export Hoax"

Hoax: Investigators call out Agbogbloshie "E-Waste Tragedy"

Three weeks of research at Ghana "e-waste dump" and review of UN Studies and World Bank data confirm waste in pictures was not "dumped" by Western recyclers.

As Americans and Europeans once again are confronted by photos of old white monitors and CRT televisions in a dumpsite in Accra, Ghana, recent investigation confirms suspicion that the story repeated by news sources is a hoax.  Three reports on Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and "ewaste" appeared last week:
"'Developed countries export millions of tonnes of electronic waste annually into developing countries such as Ghana,' the group based in the country claims on its website."  - Daily Mail
People just load up containers to places like Ghana with enough working stuff to satisfy the importers and and then the rest is junk, and that junk gets smashed,” Puckett says. -
"Agbogbloshie, reportedly the world’s largest e-waste dumping site... is now a field home to thousands of tons of the world’s electronics." - Washington Post
Recycling experts have long noted that the number of pieces of junk electronics visible in photos (e.g. Wired News link) do not appear to support the claims made in the articles. Several major media have reported that "millions of tons" of used western electronics are dumped in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and that "80 percent" of used goods imported are actually not reused.  The Guardian claims it is "the world's largest e-waste site".  But the landscape (behind posed scrap workers) is relatively barren.

A three week investigation involving data journalists, trade news reporters, Ghana customs officials, local Dagbani speakers, and African electronics technicians found that Agbogbloshie only managed between 20 to 50 used electronic pieces per day - a nearly infinitesimal amount as compared to "millions of tons per year" claimed in mainstream press articles on the site. Most scrap workers at the site is concentrated on junk automobile recycling, and most of the wires being burned were from automobile harness wire.  The electronic or "e-waste" material being recycled was collected locally, and manually, by push cart, from neighborhoods and businesses in Accra.

Is the "world's largest e-waste site" a hoax?

The researchers reviewed 2 United Nations reports from 2011 and 2012, which assessed 279 sea containers of electronics, to compare against the claims by NGO's.  The UN reports contradict the claim that most of the goods imported are dumped in Agbolgbloshie rather than reused and repaired by Ghana technicians.  World Bank metadata also supported the claims of the scrap workers that the scrapped appliances shown in films were owned by Africans and had been in use for many years.  Africa has over 600 television broadcast stations.

Investigators stressed that concerns over health and pollution were genuine, and expressed particular concern over workers who eat lunch or drink water with hands contaminated by leaded soil. "We do not condone the conditions at Agbogbloshie. We only note that ending imports and arresting repairpeople will do nothing to address the problem," said Robin Ingenthron of WR3A, who organized the investigation.  Copper wire burning by teenagers is not unique to Africa, however.  Reports of copper wire burning in Europe and California emphasize the same "primitive recycling" practices occur in many cities, and are associated with unemployment and high copper prices.

Analysis of the claims by anti-trade NGOs showed their versions of the story to be mathematically and economically impossible. NGO press releases which simultaneously claim "millions of tons" are imported in 500 sea containers per month would indicate a sea container with well over 800,000 pounds per truckload.... the maximum one holds is 42,000 lbs. The cost of shipping used computers from the USA is approximately $10,000 - $14 per television. That is seven times more than the scrap value.  While many of the alarming press releases contain data which are prima facia contradiction of the claims, an emphasis on "child workers" and exotic photography still deliver a powerful message of guilt and liability in the western press.

WR3A spokesperson Robin Ingenthron offered the reporters direct access to African technicians.   The technicians participated in the investigation, and strongly cautioned editors and readers from accepting claims which do NOT interview the Africans who paid for, owned, and generated the "waste" in the photos.  WR3A also provided several studies which provide actual vetted data on e-waste exports rather than rely on emotional or racially charged photos.  Despite many headlines which empasize "child workers" employed in recycling, fewer than 1 percent of the workers in Agbogbloshie appeared to be under 18 years old.  One young man, Rachid, was shown his own photo in a Washington Post story, which indicated he was "between 12 and 18 years old".   Rachid is 22, and married, with a child.

"Africa has plenty of real problems," said Wahab Odoi, a technician and translator. "We don't need NGOs to make up pretend problems for us." Wahab Odoi suggested that donors find other causes to donate to and other environmental crimes to investigate, such as illegal ivory poaching.

A report on the trip and findings will be published soon.

American Recycler Rights: Stop Pot Prison Sentences

The past month was spent defending potential clients in Africa, who got dealt a particularly nasty set of hoax documentaries.  We have to defend the people who buy less than 5% of the material we manage, only the best reuse stuff we have, because of their ethnicity.   Clients and even Facebook friends tell me, "I've seen several documentaries about it."

But to the point... Well, who the hell manages Good Point Recycling while I'm off doing this?

"E-waste Crimes in Ghana" 10: A Convenient Lie in Agbogbloshie

Fritz Lang's Metropolis film inspired Joeseph Goebbells, Adoph Hitler's Nazi propagandist, to try to hire him for the white supremacy movement.  What "e-waste" film documentaries should learn from Lang.

So, have we all enjoyed the photos of fire and sweaty young recycling men?  Have we proven that we care?  Have we validated our recycling credentials, proven our concern, certified out downstreams, and licensed our morality?

Fritz Lang's Metropolis inspired Goebbels
Not wanting to boycott reuse technicians in Tamale does not mean we care less than you do about wire burners in Accra who are exposed to toxic soil.  Hopefully, my concern justifies my own photos.  Because that's what Agbogbloshie is.  It's a photo backdrop.  Just a nice mashup of shantytown, smoke, gadget debris and glistening muscles.  It has become a cheap movie set for #ewastehoax propaganda.

The Tamale reuse workers not only support themselves, they usually support several others in their Dagbani speaking tribe who could otherwise feel forced to move to Agbogbloshie (Accra), Ghana to burn wires.  And their scrap brothers in Agbogbloshie support not only themselves, but their own children, siblings, and parents.

This is ultimately addressed to Lord Chris Smith, because the UK has given itself a special role as "steward" of the Dagbani and the secondary market in West Africa.  He has proven his environmental credentials by circulating stories about the "largest e-waste dump on earth", the "most toxic recycling on earth", and has issued press releases crowing about Mighty Joe Benson.

Clang go the prison bars.

Yet clang, clang, clang go the Agbogbloshie scrap metal workers.  Stop all the exports, arrest every #freejoebenson... Yet the beat goes on.

#Ewastegate: Photographer Moral License to call me"boy'

In the morning after my 2nd trip to Agbogbloshie, I was copying a video (the reaction of the scrap youth to the laptop photos, during the filming by the American photojournalist), and while waiting for the files to open, searched "Agbogbloshie" in twitter search.
"One of the many boys, between 12 and 18 years old, working in the Agbobloshie landfill." (Valentino Bellini)
I was stunned.   This was Rachid, the young man who was sitting immediately to the right of Wahab Odoi the afternoon before,in a video I had copied to youtube that night.  In today's Washington Post.