"E-Waste Crimes in Ghana" 9 - Great White Savior Gam

We revisited Agbogbloshie in urban Accra yesterday.   Having 9 days in Tamale, learning the Dagbani context, was important.  It honed and shaped our thinking.  Wahab and his 2 cousin/friends could focus their Dagbani translation on our questions, rather than siphon off the translation for American and Italian reporters.  As importantly, we had 9 days to think about the questions we didn't think to ask on the first day.

Since it was Agbogbloshie, of course there was yet another documentary being filmed that day... Justin from New York said he's a masters degree film student.   That's basically all he'd tell us.

This time we got to the wire-burning "hot spot" via the long and windy route.   We saw much, much more of the scrap metal site and trash dump.  It is indeed impressive in the context of a city of 1 million residents.  Of course, this city has closer to 5 million.   Recyclers will get my point... there has to be a lot of stuff still out in the city somewhere, waiting for a decision maker to let it be recycled.

money shot
The white photojournalist had Awal (Howell) set up along the canal, sitting on a TV housing, with his back to the tire fires east of him.  We took a vantage point under the sun canopy where the scrap burners and hanger-abouters rest and have lunch.

Agbogbloshie as a scrapyard has little to do with wire burning, and the wire burning has much more to do with automobile wire than with "e-waste".  But those wire fires, while a very small part of the equation, attract thrill seekers - unemployed teenagers and #greatwhitesaviors like me and "Justin".  

The site, seen from above, is mostly scrap automobiles, motorcycles, and bus recycling,.  It's not the largest electronics dump in the world, not even in the top 100.  Given the number of African households who have had electroncs for decades, there should be much more e-scrap.  "E-waste" is a very small part of the scrap, apparently because Africans are still holding onto it, "speculating" that used electronics they don't use now will be sellable to someone.  Today's Agbogbloshie is probably the tip of an iceberg as decades of reuse and repair will eventually cascade from a next generation of smart phone users.

There is, of course, reuse going on in Agbogbloshie, too.  At least for now, the used electronics upgraded by Accra's middle class often still are reused.   We were not given the tour of the reuse yard but didn't need it really because that's where Chendabi Enterprises came from.  Wahab's cousin in Tamale had started his business buying from fellow Dagbani scrappers (see Chendabi Ent blog).  We photographed a pickup truckload of electronics, intact, being taken OUT of Agbogbloshie as we left.

Reuse team in Tamale has Asbogbloshie routes
For scrap electronics, the percentage being scrapped was larger than our first visit (draft film) suggested, however. There were more people breaking down electronics than the 3-4 we saw on the first trip.

So, in order to get a better measure of exactly the volumes Agbogbloshie manages, this time we focused on the bottlenecks.   We'd seek out the board buyers, and the TV plastic housing buyers, who we missed before.   We had questions prepared which were business questions, relevant to them, and the interviews were much more sophisticated as a result.

Circuit boards:   The consolidator we met with longest collects on average 400 kilograms per week.  He says there are 4 of the buyers who have 80% or more of the volume.  He had pricing for a much wider breakdown of boards than Awal (Howell) had.   He said the volumes range between 2,000 kilograms of high and low grade circuit boards and 4,000 kilograms (1 or 2 tons) per week.

Of course, modern automobiles also have circuit boards.

285kg-571kg per day is much more than 10kg per day - but hardly delivers the "largest e-waste site", or could remotely account for 500 sea containers per month, or for "millions of tons" per year.  The boards are all exported, with a couple of exceptions.  TV board parts in demand by local repair shops were taken off and resold (like we did in MA 15 years ago), but there wasn't chip grading or any evidence of acid baths, ever.

The other thing we made a point to track was CRTs.   We could hardly find any, despite the fact they are "persistent", they don't dry up or soak into the ground (the same junk CRT can be photographed for months, by dozens of photojournalists).  Part of this was explained through reuse.  CRTs are stubbornly repairable, and economically challenged Dagbani are even more persistent in trying to resell them if at all possible.

TV Plastics:   TV plastic was another story, which we got by interviewing Agbogbloshie's scrap TV plastic buyer.   There was one guy collecting them, who was eager to talk and rather depressed.   Demand for the black and grey plastic housings had fallen off the map for the past year.

He let me photograph what he had, which was a year's worth, but somewhat confusing because he couldn't say exactly when he stopped looking for them.   He was excited when Wahab and I spoke of buying it from him and said he could get back to his old volumes quickly, that the housings were all over the city.  The photo has 700-1,000 of these (based on measure of base, width, height), and the pile has been here more than 9 months.  Hardly a "millions of tons per year" operation at Agbogbloshie... more like the city scrap yard for 5 million Accra residents.

That led to another interesting insight.   When demand for reuse TVs went down, scrappers stopped hauling the whole heavy CRT televisions to Agbogbloshie.  They do as I saw in Europe, USA, and Asia, a la "scrap junkie" - they can just take the copper bearing parts and leave the tubes around the city.

Now that's a persistent problem we need to fix.  But it's also an utter refutation of the Basel Action Network, Greenpeace and Al Jazeera narrative, that TVs are dumped in Agbogboshie.   Wahab asked in Dagbani several times how the guys "get their TVs by the truckload from Tema port", to loud laughter.

Like the 2013 April Fools Day "Africa E-Waste Matrix" blog suggested, the logistics on "dumping" are ludicrous.   The 80% junk is unloaded more than an hour away at port, bribed out of customs, and then not delivered to Agbogbloshie?? but filtered through hundreds of TV repair shops and reuse shops and homes around Accra, to be picked up and delivered by push cart and moped to Agbogbloshie??  That's why you never see a sea container in a place that receives 500 sea containers per month (per Mike Anane)?

Fair Use (for criticism of an accusation made in his article), here is how Kevin McElvaney shows PCs being delivered from bad western recyclers to Agbogbloshie.  Five Pentium 2 computers at a time on the back of a motorcycle, 2 hours from Tema?  If it's 100 pounds, "millions of tons per year" means at least 40 million motorcycle trips to Tema port.  No wonder they are arriving 10-15 years after they were imported.  The simpler explanation is that someone in Ghana bought them, and used them, a decade earlier.

You see, no one is importing Pentium 1 or Pentium 2 or 3 computers into Ghana, despite the fact that they have exponentially more scrap value than the Pentium 4 and dual or quad core processor computers actually seen at the customs photos, or actually seen in Tamale or Tema shops.  They may be traded in to a reuse shop, brought for an impossible upgrade request and abandoned, or traded in.  They exist in the shops but not at the port.

No one is importing "majority junk" loads because there is no reason to and no money in it. 

No western recycler is "dumping" in Agbogbloshie, and Joe Benson didn't either.

Anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or a liar.  

The 75%-80% "waste" claim made against Joe Benson, at his trial, makes people in Ghana really really mad.   And with the technology we brought there yesterday, the disruption of the Basel Action Network and Mike Anane story is fast afoot.

auto accident waste = #1 Agbobloshie
I'm trying to upload film to youtube, has taken all night (which is why I can't fix last weeks video until I get to Canada).  The film shows a dozen Dagbani speakers looking at Al Jazeera and Guardian photos of them and their friends.  They react to McElvaney taking a young girl who doesn't work there from her walk-by and posing her on a tub to take a photos implying they feel she's one of the recyclers.

But the most emotional reaction was to the photo of Idriss Zakarias, labelled prominently as the property of Kevin McElvaney and Al Jazeera.   Their friend Idriss was struck and killed by a motor vehicle inside outside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard a few months ago.  I honestly don't know whether this passes the "fair use" test.  We'll see if someone gets Google to take his photo down before I get loaded the emotional reactions of the kids watching his image come up online.

RIP, they remember you Idrissa

This photo is property of Al Jazeera or photojournalist Kevin McElvaney.

Today I'm headed to Cape Coast Castle Museum.

I'll be noodling around how we got here, the white guilt over the slavery history preserved there, how that white guilt translates to environmental activists, how it causes us to mistrust trade with Africa, and how the "solution" is making scrap kids photos a commodity for export owned by the photographer, and how Joe "Hurricane" Benson winds up in the role of Kunta Kinte, an African man in chains in England for the crime of TV repair.  How the solutions were for California SB20 to shred the working computer displays, for the EU to give $1.2M grant for unused equipment which doesn't help the scrap boys, how Blackstone Institute (PureEarth) printed a report claiming this was dumped western goods, how Interpol created "Project Eden" to bring Africans back to the trees, back to nature, as if stopping Benson from importing today does something for the decades of televisions and computers already in use, or used up, over decades in African cities and villages.

If 100% of imports stop tomorrow, this is the tip of an iceberg of e-waste, car waste, furniture waste and general waste management and recycling market demand in Africa and other emerging markets.   You can shut me down, but you can't put the genie back in the bottle.  Dagbani is onto you guys.

Sorry Interpol.   It's the tree of knowledge.  The Apple cannot be unbitten.   We meet in Agbogbloshie, and at conferences, like great white saviors at a gam of whaling ships, searching for the great white whale of "e-waste crime", apparently oblivious to the exploitation, commercial use of people, collateral damage and friendly fire documented here over a decade.

Unbiting the Apple is the remedy for the banana peel fallacy.

Ti Chema Agbogbloshie, Ti Chema

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