How E-Waste Exports Works in 500 Words or Less

(Sample photos and links to be provided next post.  This is a low-bandwidth version.)

Demand in Ghana rises.  Meltwater Academy (MEST), internet cafes, Accra Hospital, etc.

Wages support electricity but not "brand new" electronics.   30% imported is new, 70% used goods from Europe (mostly) or USA [see SBC E-Waste Assessment Ghana 2011 below]

Ghana Buyer faces $7,000 shipping cost per 350 TVs or 650 computers.  The cost of every junk or BAD one on the load is more than $15.  He's paying $15 out of pocket every bad one that goes on the container.

In response the Ghana investor sends Ghana inspectors to buy/assess each piece of electronic purchased in Europe.  These people have been labelled "Waste Tourists" and "criminals" by race-profiling Europol report writers.

Customs agents in Ghana a) Don't know what they are looking at when they open a container, and b) read the reports by Watchdogs stating that 80% of "e-waste" imports are bad.  This is usually responded to with a "gift" to get the container through customs, or a "value added tax", add $3K to get the container from port to point of distribution.

Gently handled used product is sold to retail markets in Ghana, many owned by repair technicians who do repairs if necessary.  85% of the goods, according to SBC, are working or repaired.

Retail consumers in Accra often bring a 20 year old electronic for "trade in".  The repair/resale market treats these like used car trade ins, accepting them for discount or less.  Some of these provide parts for other repairs (as do the 15% imported but not repaired).

Scrap gangs, often youth, come with cash to buy the accumulated retail consumer trade-in junk from the retail shops.  Most of the goods they take to Agbogbloshie were imported back in the 1990s, and used for 15 years... not taken straight from port.

Non-profit takes photos of poor kids burning 25-year old electronics at Agbogbloshie.

Non-profit says that "80%-90%" of the exports from Europe are burned, creating pollution.

Shredding companies and planned obsolescence manufacturers pay non-profit handsomely to promote legislation banning export, or creating non-tariff barriers to export (e.g. San Jose CA).

In San Jose California, a wealthy student will receive a new 23" monitor display for his new computer.   The three year old display she replaced will go into a collection which will shred it.  A student at MEST Academy will go without.

Fair Trade Recycling makes so much more sense.  The more people trade, the better choice and quality the "Geeks of Color" in Africa will have.  Prohibition is dumb.  San Jose CA has just joined the "Accidental Racists".

Sources:  I lived in Africa and trade with Ghana and have met and interviewed Ghana EPA and lived with the Attorney General of Burkina Faso in my house for 6 months.  But most of this account is verified by the E-WASTE ASSESSMENT - GHANA REPORT of 2011.

I'm all in favor of improving quality.  Generally quality goes up if buyers are allowed to choose between buying product in San Jose, Santa Clara, or Texas.  The value of the goods can be used to incentivize proper hand disassembly in Ghana, the way we have done with Retroworks de Mexico and partners in Malaysia and Egypt.   What I find shocking is that smart USA college students believe that Ghana Technicians are ignorant wire burning ni**ers.  Once again.  "All right then, I'll go to hell."

(For a more eloquent, magazine-style article, visit my most-read post of all time "Monkeys Running the Environmental Zoo")

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