Five Sources of E-Scrap (ewaste) at Agbogbloshie, Ghana, Africa

I keep having to answer this specific question again and again:

"Where does the WEEE / E-Waste photographed in Africa come from? Wasn't it obviously imported?"

Sure, anything not manufactured in Africa was imported, and Africa has even less electronics manufacturing than the USA does.  But beware the "car waste" fallacy.  Junk Volkswagens at a dealership show trade-ins, after decades of use, not "illegal German a-waste dumping".

Retailers we interviewed in Ghana sell mostly used Western electronics.  They often do repairs, not just on what they import, like a car dealership that has a repair shop (most USA dealerships).

With these interviews in the background, here is a list of 5 Sources of E-Scrap at Agbogbloshie.

  1. Exhausted product. For example, TVs imported to Ghana in 1970s, 80s,, 90s that are no longer worth repair.
  2. Elective upgrade.  For example working VCRs which people choose to replace with DVDs, due to affluence and declining costs of newer technology (DVD players).  
  3. Home Breakage.   Product damaged by electric surges (see reports on Ghana electric grid problems. This is more likely to be brand new product, lighter circuits which can't resist power surges.  It explains why Ghana consumers prefer "solid state" 1990s products.
  4. Fallout of recent imports (est. 9% of new and used imports).  "Fallout" is called "breakage and spoilage" in tracking commerce.  A percentage of rice, of cars, of books, etc. always finds damage in shipping or human error.  This includes working goods which sit on the shelf too long and don't sell (and are not re-ordered).
  5. Working Refrigerators, Air Conditioners, etc.  New electric standards in place in Ghana are designed for energy conservation.  Older white goods are seized by Ghana customs (working ones which are eligible for subsidy to reduce electric grid demand).
Yes.  There is scrap being recycled in ugly ways (See 2012: Ten Most Toxic Africa E-waste Recycling Practices). But the sources of that scrap are not what photojournalists claimed.

Number 1 is blatantly obvious to anyone who lived in Ghana in the 1980s and 1990s.  Ghana has 21 Television stations.  Most households in cities like greater Accra (4M residents) have had electrical appliances, computers, TVs, cell phones, radios, VCRs, etc. for decades.

2015 Imports
Ghana is generating far more "ewaste" than we can see in Agbogbloshie (which is mostly car and appliance scrap metal).  African consumers, like Americans, tend to believe a 1970s television (which they purchased in the 1980s) is more valuable than it is.  No one in Africa wants to buy a VCR, but the consumer remembers how much it costs.  USA car dealers have these discussions all the time... consumers believe their 1980s Volkswagen is worth more than the dealer does.

Number 2 is the devil wrestled with by retailers.   They must place orders now for something consumers will buy 3 months later.  Retailers can't afford to pay reuse price for scrap... no matter what the continent.  As a result, African retailers wind up with stuff "traded in" or abandoned or not picked up after repair.  Sometimes they made a mistake in importing a device... They order 3,000 large 27" CRT televisions, but can only sell 2,000 at the price they predicted.Number 5 was reported as the largest "illegal" percentage by the Ghana customs agents we interviewed, which are included in the 1/3 of randomly intercepted containers Interpol reported contained some illegal goods.  

The "elective upgrade" also impacts #4.  Consumer demand changes, and sometimes Africa's Tech Sector imports too many Pentium 3s, or non-smart-phones, or older displays.  That's the same as Western retailers who must discount stock and sell surplus.  It's not "wastecrime".  The retailer has already been punished by purchasing something, transporting it, and having to mark it down.

Repair Shop receives TVs imported 1990-2005, most by weight are not recent imports

Number 4, fallout, receives inordinate attention, but is misunderstood by White Power elite who imprison Africa Tech Sector workers.  The White Power structure believes it is "saving Africa" from dumps by putting black men, like Joe Benson, in prison for "not proving" that they have tested the product to reduce #4 - fallout.  

Joe Benson - Serving time in UK prison to make #whiteguilt patrons feel better

There is tracking data for all kinds of "fallout" (e.g. the percentage of rice imported to Ghana which is discarded as "spoilage and breakage", but the fallout of other product (warranty returns for example) has never been treated as "illegal waste shipments".  The allegations that 80% or 90% or 75% of the used goods being "fallout" was not only disproven by studies, it was mathematically and economically impossible from the start.  Any reporter who typed the statistic should apologize for not vetting the source.  

The fallout of brand new electronics is higher than used.  Ghana retailers thrive selling used, because every consumer knows that new products cost more but are more likely to fail.  Perhaps Interpol should be issuing seizure notices on brand new electronics exported to Africa, and subjecting those to the same PAT test Benson was alleged not to have proof of (the burden of proof, that he had tested each unit was put on him. When the judge accepted that shift, Benson accepted a plea bargain.  He should not have been prosecuted in the first place.)

Number 5 was the big news of our visit to Ghana.  Ghana has electric problems and started an old appliance takeback project with HiSense.   White goods which are eligible under the takeback program are illegal to import.

Most of the junk given to scrap collectors in Accra is #1 and #2, product which is either exhausted or which the owner has given up trying to resell, and electively upgraded.  Number 3, breakage, is 4 times higher than warranty failure in Europe (new products failing in the first year), and there must be stats for that (ESD).  Some Africans allege that some of the "new" goods sold to Africa are even warranty returns and bad batches rejected by rich countries.

Out of all the stats and numbers and sources, there is one group profiled and singled out for rigorous enforcement.


Out of all the possible root causes of e-waste dumped in Agbogbloshie, "Hurricane Joe Benson" has been selected to go to prison.   And Raphael Rowe ironically put him there, and refuses to pick up on the racial profiling story of the decade.

#freejoebenson, #whitesaviorcomplex, #saveafrica, #whiteguilt, #racialprofiling, #blacklivesmatter, #povertyporn

No comments: