#1 Finding of Agbogbloshie Report

As I finalize our 100 page report from 2015's investigation of Agbogbloshie, there is one overwhelming finding which is simple and brutal and efficient to explain.  The most obvious candidates a year ago were things like "this is not remote wetlands outside the city".   Or "this is automobile scrap wire, not electronics".  Or even, "there are not thousands of children here, there are 25 guys ages 14-34".  The tonnage estimate alone seemed like the obvious finding... it's in pounds per day, not thousands of tons per day.

But #1 Lesson?

No, the number one finding is that NGOs and journalists and photojournalists did not even pretend to do any data research.  The number one finding is that data (number of households with electricity, TV, phones, internet) about consumption and generation in Ghana and other West Africa locations has been available for decades.  World Bank and IMF have done major studies to support infrastructure and power grid needs in greater Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Tema and other cities.

There was absolutely no need to travel to Ghana to predict what we'd see there.  

The UNU and other NGO reports had no baseline data for Africa electronics ownership. 

And yet they had it in spades for EU electronics ownership, so they clearly understood it.  The charts showing "flows" of used WEEE and scrap around the world are calculated from generation by EU businesses and households, based on ownership in previous 2 decades.   But they didn't get the same data for AFRICAN businesses and households ownership over same 2 decades!

No baseline data.   As in "this paper gets an F".  An NGO cannot possibly determine that 80% of imports are waste or "too quickly disposed" by looking at a dump.  It's like making health care recommendations based on a trip to the cemetery.  You can photograph a westerner getting a haircut in a foreign city, but that doesn't mean the hair outside the barbershop came from illegal OECD waste.  Even if you purposefully sabotage a device and sneak it to a foreign refurbisher - or send a European Rapunzel with exceedingly long hair to the African barber shop - that demonstration does not prove anything.  If I say "80% of the apples sold in Ghana had razor blades hidden in them" and then I hide a razor blade in an apple and send it to Ghana and say "see"?  That does nothing to support the 80%.  But cutting a wire in a TV and selling it to Joe Benson has been presented as a "smoking gun" that most of the trade is sham recycling, supported by photos of a fairly innocuous mount of city generated waste.  Neither of these is quantitative, and neither shows causality.

So the methodology sucked, but unlike the hair cutting analogy, there is actual data on Ghana business and household ownership... We know how much hair is there to be cut, how much must be generated with 0 tourist hair.

Fair Trade Recycling has been trying to make this point for over a decade, but too many editors and journalists told us "but I've seen the pictures".   Of children, of wide white eyes on sad black faces with a familiar looking junk VCR in the background.

Photojournalism trumped datajournalism.

So for our report, we flew in, we visited the required places, we filmed interviews both in English and local languages.  But the fact is that you could have known this was a hoax just by asking "how would a metropolis of 4 million people who have had 20 TV stations for 20 years manage to:

  1. acquire enough TVs to explain the level of consumer ownership documented in the city 20 years ago, and 
  2. dispose of the eventual electronic scrap the city generated?
If C is waste photographed at Agbogbloshie, and D is appliances in productive use by Africans, C + D = A (bad shipments )+ B (good shipments).   If you find C, you haven't yet determined that A is 80% of imports.  But what you can do is say that 215,000 tons per year is the total of A + B.  If 80% of that is bad, then how do we arrive at D - households with devices in use - which is publicly available data?

In the absence of a control group (arguably, like India and China which ban import of second hand goods but still generate scrap), baseline data is "Go" in the Monopoly Game of Agbogbloshie.

It turns out that using NGOs own figures, without ever flying to Accra, you know they are incompetent or lying, because you cannot reach (D) the number of devices in use, or the teledensity, without a higher percentage of B (good shipments).  And if you have D for a decade ago, you cannot have had D without producing C (waste at Agbogbloshie) because even EU generates more C per D than that.

Oh, and guess what?  By doing actual research before and after our investigation, we found out that the Asian electronics manufacturers all have this data for the purpose of replacing second hand goods sales with a) brand new appliances, or b) refurbished (to new in box standards) appliances, the SKDs they made for decades for the Asian market.

Banana peels in the bottom of a monkey cage do not prove that people are illegally dumping banana peels at the Zoo.  If you suspect that 80% of the banana peels at the zoo were dumped by OECD recyclers seeking to avoid composting costs, you don't just go directly to the News Outlets and announce it as "fact", and if you do, editors need to make sure it isn't repeated as fact.

5 Bells: Blogger Declares "E-Waste Hoax is Dead"

Shaba Kahamba, the Artist formerly known as Prince, and the E-Waste Hoax are dead.*

The second of the list, Prince, the incredibly famous purple dancer, was found passed out in an elevator, and declared dead at age 57.  Shaba Kahamba, the Congolese Soukous bassist legend, died peacefully in retirement in the Netherlands on Tuesday... in somewhat undeserved obscurity.   And the E-Waste Hoax will be remembered only by its silence.  There is no "correction" forthcoming from BBC, Economist, NYT, NPR, etc.  But I predict no further national or international coverage of any "e-Waste" emergency this Earth Day, one year after the news "jumped the shark" in declaring a small scrap metal pile in Western Africa to be the largest E-Waste Dump on Earth.

After a decade of NGO hype, what makes me think that "ewastegate" is over?  And not with a clang, but a whimper?

There may be some residual stories about "e-waste exports" cropping about here and there, but mostly they are coming from rank amateurs like Kevin McElvaney, people in their 20s with a camera. But the source of the hoax statistics is running out of funding, and not a decade too soon.

*homage to "the Oxford Comma"... Shaba K and TAFKAP are two different people.

Agbogbloshie "In the Life" by Wondergem and Lalouschek

Alex Wondergem and Adu Lalouschek have finally put up the full 11 minute documentary "Scrap Metal Men" on Youtube.



This shows how 100% of the material called "e-waste" gets to what has been called the "biggest ewaste dump in the world" and described as "500 Sea Containers Per Month".

This is a scandal and the environmental community needs to get out and denounce the "Story of Stuff" and NGOs who accused #FreeJoeBenson "Hurricane Benson" and other geeks of color of importing junk.