Here to Help Part 2: The Words Don't Fit The Picture

Math test:
Q:  "If Ghana gets hundreds of millions of tons of e-waste per year, and e-waste is 5.76% of irony scrap (cars, white goods, appliances), and the world generates 106M tons of irony scrap, what percent of the world's e-scrap / e-waste does Ghana receive?"
 A:  If world e-Scrap exports are 5.76% of 106,000,000 metric tons*, then world e-scrap would be 6,105,600 tons per year.   To get hundreds of millions of tons, the rest of the world has to wait for 20 years - disposing of no e-waste - and then dump it all at once on Ghana at the end of two decades.
FACT:   Ghana receives somewhere between 0.000014 and 0.000439 of the world's #ewaste - between four and six /100ths of one percent.
          Calculations below.

after 90% reuseof 570,000,000 tons (include domestic scrap)Of 48,900,000 tons (exported only)

Non toxic copper extraction
So, it's just ludicrous.  If you want a higher percentage, you need a lower denominator.  StEP's higher estimates numerator (215k tons) includes fridges and air conditioners and washer-dryers in "e-waste", which makes for 48.9 million tons per year worldwide.  In which case, for Agbogbloshie to receive hundreds of millions of tons, it would take only 5 years of 100% of all e-waste in every country being dumped there... still ridiculous.

How would China, India, and Nigeria get their share of the "e-waste crisis" if Ghana's Agbogbloshie was being so selfish about it?

*est. based UN University 106,000,000 tons of steel exports (of 570 MT recycled... including domestic use in all nations). ratio on ISRI 76M tons irony scrap + 4.4M segregated e-scrap.

Balloons and popcorn distribured by white saviors at Agbogbloshie - fair use, but better if you return call.

The analysis below is flanked by my own photographic images of the Agbogbloshie site.  In the critique of the outcome of the $1.2M GAHP grant, I want to be clear... I'm not attacking Richard Fuller or Jack Caravanos.  I respect them (even if they don't return my messages).  I believe that if they look at the coverage in Atlantic, BBC, Economist, Wired, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, etc. etc. they will understand why Joe Benson did not get a fair trial.   I'm betting they read "To Kill a Mockingbird".   They have been handed the baton by Jim at Basel Action Network... who "never, ever" said 80% of e-waste was exported.

The words don't fit the pictures.
Water balloons?  Emotions without e-waste (smoke from tire fire)
In Part One of "Here To Help", we visited the results of the $1.2M GAHP grant to "save Agbogbloshie".   Blacksmith Institute had sent professor Jack Caravanos to test the site for toxics in the soil of the "Most Toxic Place On Earth"... Alphabetically.
Caravanos took blood samples, and did an excellent job in researching Agbogbloshie except for one ever so minor detail... on the first page, Caravanos reprinted the infamous anonymous "BAN Export/Import Stat", the citation going to a paper citing someone who claimed never, ever to have made such a claim.

According to their joint Press Release, Green Cross and Blacksmith Institute (dba Pure Earth) found 215,000 tons of "e-waste" imported into Ghana, of which they claimed 50% work and the rest are dumped.  The citation for the 50%?

Funny, we've been citing that same study, too.  But we didn't find the part where 50% was dumped. No.   The study said 90% was reused.
5.2.2 Quality of Goods Varying account on the quality of the imported second hand EEE was obtained. The common position however, was that not all goods cost the same as some were in better condition than others, but there is no formal system of grading for the EEE purchased. Estimates from the recorded accounts indicated the following: About 70% of the imports arrive in a working condition; About 20% can be serviced (repaired/refurbished) to get them functioning; About 10% do not function. 
That is verbatum from page 25 of the Study Blacksmith and Green Cross cite.  Blacksmith/Green Cross put the footnote above to support a claim of 50% dumping, but the report states 90% reuse!  There is some speculation in the report whether used goods fail sooner (displays don't), but they found only 10% of the 215K tons didn't get reused or repaired.

The Nigeria E-Waste Assessment Study, a year later, was less skeptical of the longevity.  The later study followed the repair sector, and found 91% reused, only 9% dumped.  Some other paragraphs from the studies funded from 2010 to 2012 are even more clear.

"The majority of refurbished products stem from imports via the ports of Lagos. The interim results from project component 2, the Nigerian e-Waste Country Assessment, show that 70% of all the imported used equipment is functional and is sold to consumers after testing. 70% of the non-functional share can be repaired within the major markets and is also sold to consumers. 9% of the total imports of used equipment is non-repairable and is directly passed on to collectors and recyclers."
Final report of the UNEP SBC, E-waste Africa Project,  Lagos & Freiburg, June 2011 
"Refurbishing of EEE and the sales of used EEE is an important economic sector (e.g. Alaba market in Lagos). It is a well-organized and  a dynamic  sector that holds the potential for further industrial development. Indirectly, the sector has another important economic role, as it supplies low and middle income households with affordable ICT equipment and other EEE. In the view of the sector’s positive socio-economic performance, all policy measures aiming to improve e-waste management in Nigeria should refrain from undifferentiated banning of  second-hand imports and refurbishing activities and strive for a co-operative approach by including the market and sector associations."
Now it's time to crunch some numbers and show my own work.

So, the first question is does 215,000 tons per year (CUNY import estimate) sound right, given the world figures above?  It is about 18,000 tons per month (17,917 if the containers were maximum weight - which used electronics actually aren't dense enough for).  Actually, it's 895 sea containers per month, which is more than Lagos, and more than Mike Anane state.    We think it's closer to 400-500 containers per month, at closer to 32,000 lbs per container (based on used electronic weight), which would be under 80,000 tons (76,800).  But that's actually close enough (36%) for our purposes... we'll stick with StEP's 215k tons.

First things first.  215K tons, even if 100%, isn't millions of tons or "hundreds of millions of tons".  The only possible place "hundreds of millions of tons" could have come from is from the total worldwide generation of scrap metal - 570,000,000 tons, which includes e-waste... as well as junk airplanes, cars, chains, desks, staplers, frying pans, and ships....  Of THAT, about 6.1M tons is the estimate backed out for electronic "e-waste".

215K tons could range from as high as 3.5% of world e-scrap (if low 6.1M electronics only is the denominator ), or as low as 0.004% of world Scrap (using StEP's higher white-goods included 48.9M tons).   If we are right and it's under 80,000 tons, that's 0.0013, in case you are keeping track.

The higher the percent, the smaller the world e-waste problem.   Can't have it both ways.

But that 0.004% isn't even all e-waste... it includes working second hand goods.

Agbogbloshie Truck Fleet (includes auto scrap collection vehicles and waste trucks)
The second question is, of those 215,000 tons imported, how many were actually reused? If it's 90%... plus whatever percent eventually fails from goods imported 15 years earlier....

StEP     10 % not reused of 215,000 tons = 21,500 tons or
WR3A  10 % not reused of 80,000 tons = 8,000 tons

So if Agbogbloshie scrappers are managing 8,000 to 21,500 tons per year... now it's down

21,500 / 570M tons =  0.000038% (of 570.0 million tons) for a maximum of global scrap
21,500 / 48.9M tons = 0.000439% (of 48.9M tons)

If you use WR3A's estimate of 80,000 x 10%

8,000 / 570.0M = 0.000014% (of 570M denominator) or
8,000 / 48.9M = 0.000164% (of 48.9 million ton denominator)

These are tiny fractions - hundredths or thousandths of one percent, no matter which estimate you use.

...   So whether you use the smallest or largest "e-waste export" estimates, and even if you count reuse as "dumping", you have less than one percent, and if you use the higher "e-waste export" figure, your significance nearly disappears entirely no matter which numerator of "waste"  you use.

Fairest is to use StEP's White-goods-included generation (not export) and to say that Ghana may receive between 0.000396 and 0.00066 - between four and six /100ths of a percent (Blacksmith's 2010 film showed coffee makers, clothing irons, etc. included)

How many pounds did the $1.2M dollar grant affect?  See "Seven Steps to #Ewastegate"

As we saw in Part One, the "message" is the goal.

And Blacksmith Institute certainly helped get the message across - That Agbogbloshie in Accra Ghana is the largest E-Waste Dump on Earth and at the TOP of a list of ten most toxic places.   That's not exactly what they said, but the photographers made sure that is the message that "got across" to The Atlantic, BBC, Economist, Guardian, NPR, Wired, Washington Post, etc. on Earth Day, as I was having lunch with Awal, Rachid, and Razak, three leaders of the scrap "boys" of Agbogbloshie.

Now, I'm sensitive to the fact that the "trickle down effect" to the scrap workers in Agbogbloshie could be important, and definitely admit that they have seen their slum's infamy grow and become more visible to the charity sector.  There are good people raising funds for schools and playgrounds and public health... And Caravanos is right about the health standards.  But is putting the Geeks of Tamale in jail really the only way to promote charity at the shantytown?  And does posing Africans like gorillas and hyperbolizing their waste volumes really build the economy there?

Maybe the word's overused... but it's a bit racist, isn't it?  Accidentally so?

See the film at bottom.  Lighting anyone?  We have a lot of film of the Ghana recyclers' reactions to the photos and the hyperbole about millions of tons.

So how does a good organization like StEP, UNU, Green Cross, or Pure Earth sit around while hyperbole-throwing photographers like Bellini, McElvaney, Dannoritzer, throw up videos of "still not sponsored" showing this to be "E-Waste Hell" and "Sodom and Gomorrah" and "biggest ewaste dump on earth" and "where your computer goes to die?"

They can either blame me for being a lousy communicator...

Or they can step up and sign THE PETITION TO FREE JOE BENSON.

screw the balloons, let's eat!
These men of Agbogbloshie signed the petition.  I even put up with the Barcelona club shirt.

Now, if we found in our WR3A study 20-50 units per day dumped at Agbogbloshie (e-waste not including white goods), that's about 5,000 pounds per day tops.  If the difference between ISRI and StEP is explained by the white goods, then traditionally USA defined e-waste (what we measured)... is a little less than 19,350 tons per year, but not ludicrously so.

The StEP number (with white goods) ratio to the ISRI number (just electronics) is eight-fold, so let's just quickly assume that for every "USA e-waste" there are eight more tons of air conditioners, freezers, etc.   That would make Agbogbloshie, by our estimates, a maximum of 40,000 lbs per day...

20 TONS.   That's one sea container.

If there are 500 sea containers arriving per month (strangely equal to Lagos, I haven't actually seen that number in Ghana studies, but let's move ahead), then 6% would be the Agbogbloshie percentage.

Now SOME of what we saw at Agbogbloshie - MOST of what we saw - had been used for years.  But no doubt there are other dumps in Ghana besides Agbogbloshie (in fact I visited some).  If it was all imports, this would make Agbogbloshie 2/3 of the Nigeria Study waste (91% reuse) or 40% of the Ghana E-Waste Assessment.  It's probably mostly once reused.  But Africans are also hoarding a lot of electronics is "storage" (another observation in the SBC report), so the absence of material doesn't mean it's not 6-9% breakage and fallout being imported.

If you want to stick with Green Cross and Blacksmith, you can... just define less of the imports as e-waste and use ISRI numbers... you can make it 50% if you want to assume fewer containers.

In any case, this is NOT the "biggest e-waste dump on earth" and under no circumstances do the photojournalists or BAN or Greenpeace tell the truth about the site.   There's no way.  They are posing as experts, and if you pose as an expert and there is no way on earth to make the facts work, you have to give up being an expert.

The words don't fit the pictures.

Men of Agbogbloshie looking at their photos in McElvaney and Bellini and Pieter Hugo websites- online

Caravanos field work in Agbogbloshie sheds a lot of light on details like the number of workers, their average ages (on a par with every other African industry).

It's very unfortunate that his paper led with a ridiculous statistic about Agbogbloshie directly importing Europe's junk computers and TVs.  Taking an example of an urban scrapyard for auto waste and white goods and African post-owned VCRs and using it to highlight the dangers of toxics at urban scrapyards seems completely appropriate.   My problem is that Pure Earth / Blacksmith and Caravanos remained quite when the media, from Science magazine to to the Economist, seized on their (alphabetical) "top of list of 10 toxic sites" and turned it into an INTERPOL session to arrest and destroy the Africans who import to supply Ghana's "informal sector".

"We are here to help".   Blacksmith's use of Caravanos report entered a perfect storm of post-Peter Essick poverty porn photography... see Kevin McElvaney promoting his "Still Not Sponsored" depictions of Agbogbloshie Halloween shots of scary black people - who are still waiting for a piece of the money promised for wearing his shirts.

  • African TV repairmen put in jail.   
  • African recyclers called "boys" and other names.
  • African workplaces and homes labelled "Sodom and Gomorrah" and "Hell"
  • African children pulled from footpaths and told to pose on junk with stuff on their heads.
  • African technicians called "primitive" and "informal"
  • Africans starring in films to fundraise for exotic, daring, applauded photojournalists.

It has been quite a set of messages, this Blacksmith Institute / Green Cross grant.  This $1.2 Million may not have done much for the Dagbani and Hausa economic refugees in Ghana.  But it has "sent the message".  Great white saviors keep getting bigger budgets, and are here to help.

Still Not Sponsored.  Vote for the video from Kevin and Paul below.

Remember the Time Magazine treatment of the OJ Simpson mugshot?

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