I've been reading this report by Andreas Manhart and Siddharth Prakash on the situation in Ghana. This is a slightly edited post... I was in a hurry to post a link to this study and tried to cover up that I hadn't been able to read it in one sitting by making fun of it... something I will apologize for in my next post.
The report is written in Dutch-ish and you need a good strong half cup of coffee to get very far (too much coffee and you won't be able to sit through a paragraph). Fortunately, I am married to an academic and read social engineering and international academic writings in College. What the basically says is that taking screws out and separating metals from plastics and other metals may be appropriate work in an African nation that desperately needs jobs.
"Therefore, the business is suitable to be implemented within the current informal recycling sector in Ghana."This is important.
It is refreshing to read a report which actually acknowledges the importance of employment in the country of Ghana. It is refreshing to see the economics of even "informal" e-scrap recycling (the kindlier word for "primitive") put in a way which is different from the "free them from toxics and they will eat cake" utopian approach you see in the USA. There are a few things, such as printed wiring boards, which may need to be re-exported. But that's true in the USA too, is it not?
The report also makes an honest effort to describe hand disassembly and recycling, and is refreshing in pointing out that disassembly of a computer is not intrinsically "toxic" as an activity.
"Although desktop computers contain quite a variety of hazardous substances, none of these substances is present as liquid or a gas. This makes the proper transport and pre-processing of waste desktop computers quite manageable..."The paper does come much closer to describing some of the activities in e-scrap management which have been skimmed over by "advocacy" papers. It describes "deep manual dismantling" (what we do at Retroworks de Mexico), where recycling requires "high labour intensity".
I think the paper comes up short in describing the difference in employment between repair and reuse and refurbishment. Value added analysis in the USA tends to place the employment in repair at 100 times that of recycling, and employment in recycling as 100 times the value of employment from disposal. Two of the first 10 billionaires in China were repairmen (bicycles and tractors), and the founder of Acer (owner of Gateway, second largest PC manufacturer worldwide) began in the SKD computer monitor refurbishing business. You don't see many wire burning people reach that kind of economic influence.
It takes brains and savvy to repair and refurbish PCs. I'm afraid the paper treats repair of computers - like those filmed by WR3A in Egypt, Senegal, Indonesia, Peru, and Malaysia - as too close to informal management of residue.
However, it does make a great stride in answering the question, "if this work is taken away, what will these people do", in a more comprehensive way than BAN responded to 60 Minutes ("They shouldn't have to make that choice.")
The report also fails to question some myths, e.g. "the internal phosphorous coating of the front contains cadmium". This is basically false statement. Cadmium was used in the 1960s first-generation color phosphors. There is some ytrium in modern phosphors, but the report should call for an actual study of the release of toxics, as compared to the toxins released in burning of fuel to move stuff about and mine new metals.
There is actually a lot more to delve deeply into the report, and I intend to revisit it a few more times.