2015 "Ewaste Crimes" in Ghana: Day 2

In 1985, when I lived in Cameroon, and visited a large city like Yaounde or Douala, crossing the street was not too difficult.   As you stood at the corner and watched vehicles go by, it looked something like this...
Taxi.  Taxi.  Taxi.  Truck.  TaxiVan. Taxi. Taxi. Mercedes.  TaxiVan. Taxi. Truck...
Here in Accra, capital of Ghana, thirty years later, things have changed.
Taxi. Toyota.  Honda. Truck.  Taxi.  Mercedes.  Infiniti. TaxiVan.  Truck.  Taxi. Truck. Jaguar.  Truck, Hyundai, Taxi, GMC, Taxi, Taxivan, Truck, Nissan, Toyota.... and the sentence goes on and on for half a page.
We were on our way to the "scene of the crime".  The place Blacksmith Institute placed at the top of their list of most toxic places on the planet.  Where Frontline interviewed Jim Puckett, describing the place where "most" of the world's e-waste goes.  Where Mr. Mike Anane says 500 sea containers per month arrive for primitive dumping.  Where several sources describe, and I quote, "Millions of tons of e-waste per year" are dumped and burned.  The site described by Joe Benson's prosecutor as "common knowledge" that 80 percent (that #$%$ stat) winds up after Benson exported it.

I will have to upload some of the photos later.

Millions of tons (I actually had to edit that claim out of Wikipedia and identify the source had misquoted a study saying that was the world's generation, and then applied 80% literally to Agbogbloshie). That's 60 to 90 million CRTs, if it's at least 2 million tons.

(I took about 150 photos, but most of my photos were of the photographers... I'll talk about why.  The shots are too big to upload here from my Ghana pocket wifi Vodaphone transceiver.  Some from Fair Trade Recycling e-waste reform Facebook Page).

There were about 50 people, including myself and an American and two European reporters and my friends  who took us there - my Ghana Geek pal Wahab, two of his cousins (all from same tribe and locale as the teenagers at the dump) and a lawyer and import agent.  About 25 of them were "on the job".

The young men were cool with talking to us when they could speak their own language and were assured we weren't there to exaggerate the situation (sorry for the April Fools) or make them look pitiful or bad.  And they gave us a lot of data and showed how the do things.

Top Ten Observations from Ground Zero of Agbogblosie:
  1. Whoever said that millions of tons of e-waste is dumped here needs to be sued for defamation.  It's proven false by any photo taken by any photographer.  Simply grossly outrageous, on a scale of any lie you can find in print.  It's criminally negligent to reprint that. Try instead "between 300 and 500 tons" per year, generated from neighborhoods in Accra.  A ton a day, more or less, does not look anything like 5,479 Tons per Day.
  2. About twenty five young men actually work for pay here.  Some of the others hang out because they have nothing to do and like to watch stuff burn and maybe be in line if a position opens up.  They have no truck, and no truck carries things to them.  They use wheeled pushcarts.
  3. The twenty five young men said they process only between 20 and 50 electronic items (such as TVs) per day. That's about what we saw, and about what you see in Pieter Hugo, David Fedele, Cosima Dannonitzer, Frontline, or other #povertyporn photo shoots.  That's not the largest e-waste processing operation in the world.  My Vermont operation was larger in 2004.
  4. The balls of wire they were burning were mostly automobile harness wire, from the auto scrap operation up the path.   Most of the Agbogbloshie scrapping is automobiles.
  5. Most of the smoke comes from the tires they burn the wire in.  Copper doesn't burn, it's the casing around the wires, and by weight there's a lot more tire than wire casing in the fire.
  6. There's not much economic incentive to burn wire.  You make about 30 cents more per pound, but your weight is about 25% lighter after the plastic is burned away.  So you are making $1.00 per pound on 7 pounds instead of 65 cents on 10 pounds.  The kids are earning a dollar a day.
  7. Everyone says it's lack of opportunity that brings them here.  And the UN report says that repair and refurbishment and secondary markets are one of the largest opportunities, paying 6 times average Ghana wages.  And the report says it would be a grave mistake to stop import of second hand goods precisely because of the opportunities it creates.
  8. Some of the processes, like hand-disassembly of CD and floppy drives, is environmentally superior to shredding the drives in the UK or USA.
  9. The soil is no doubt toxic as hell, but from years of auto batteries, transmission fluid, tire burning, building cable, etc... you can't possibly tie all the toxics to e-waste.
  10. The problems here are poverty and fire.    I would say NOTHING we saw was directly imported.   Zero. Zilch.   Nothing covered by the Basel Convention going on when a useful device finally wears out 10 years later.  
This was an E-Waste Hoax.   The criminals will be identified in part 4.

Howell of Tamale, center, shows hand-disassembly of wire bearing electric generator motor

I will try to upload thumbnails of photos below are mostly just to show you I was at the same place.  I found myself avoiding taking peoples faces, other than Howell.   Some are uploaded at the Fair Trade Recycling (e-waste reform) page on Facebook.

Some of them I recognize from this video "Still Not Sponsored" which I discovered last summer.  It was promoted about the time Joe Benson went to trial.

Watch it and let me know what you think of it's halloweenish shading of these young men.

pants at half mast, teenager style

Watch it, and then try not to vomit when you realize that the people "still not sponsored" are the photographer/filmmaker.

As far as I can see, there is not a penny of this intended for Howell and his band of brothers in Agbogbloshie.  #parasitesofthepoor, #gazeonabogbloshie, #povertyporn, #whitesaviorcomplex, #framed are among the comments I can think of.

And how much of Blacksmith Institute's $1,300,000 Swiss Franc grant went to the band of brothers in Agbogbloshie's scrap yard?  I don't know, I like BI but I just don't know because Blacksmith Institute does not answer calls or emails about Agbogbloshie.  Nor does Dr. Jack Caravanos.   They are about to get some from some reporters.   Stay tuned.

My kid's at UWC (United World College, an international bacc program / high school) has the best comment so far.


For April Fools, I posted to make a bit of fun of the hyperbole about "e-waste" in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, and Africa.  Using actual published articles with statistics last year, which claimed the "millions of tons" of e-waste goes to Agbogbloshie from the rich nations, I applied those numbers to the actual count of people we saw burning electric wire and breaking down PCs in Agbogbloshie.  But it's not funny.   I can just forsee someone accusing me of being callous to the scrappy band of brothers.   I will forward their comments to Wahab, who I saw chewed out by a know-it-all at the end of the day in a hotel lobby.  She was quoting Mike Anane, and accusing Wahab of #wastecrime.  He's a much, much smaller player than Joe Benson.

The photography and film has created a currency of guilt and presumed crime.

Next:   2015 "E-Waste Crimes" in Ghana #3 Port Tema Scene of the Non-crime

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