How To Pay For Africa E-Waste Cleanup?

15 years later, let's just ask what he imports
After 2 weeks back in Ghana, the #1 Finding of our research still stands.  E-Waste NGOs made up fictitious numbers about the percentage of imports to Africa that are "waste" and the percentage of waste in places like Agbogbloshie that come from faulty used good imports ("Exaggerations have been made" said Jim P. on our Salzburg panel).  Photojournalists flew to Accra (Agbogbloshie is about 20 minutes from the airport, 9 minutes from Accra's finest hotel), and took close-up photos of Africans in exotic poses.  And EU policymakers got project funding to "save" Africans from e-waste dumping.

Neither the NGOs, nor the journalists, nor the EU Policy funders checked out existing data on Accra stormwater runoff (the water quality at the Odaw Korle lagoon was hideous in the 1970s), the number of households with televisions in Accra 15 years ago, or the number of people employed in the scrap industry generally as compared to the number seen in Old Fadama slum of Accra. They didn't even find it on mapquest, which would show it's at the center of Accra, not a remote fishing village on the outskirts (as should have been suggested by the cab ride from the hotel). They would have found the phrase "Sodom and Gomorrah" appears in a 2002 AMA publication calling for razing the slum to build shopping malls and parking lots.

There was no basic secondary research.  No control group.  No null hypothesis.

Policy was made based on racially titulling pics-of-kids-at-dumps.  And Joe Benson's prosecutor literally referred to the orphan statistic of 80% dumping as "common knowledge", thus not citing any source.  UNEP celebrated Joseph Benson's jailing in its 2015 report, even as Puckett called him "collateral damage".

Things here aren't perfect. But the"environmental injustice" is the racial profiling of Africa's Tech Sector.

Now the hard part.  Yes, the old TVs at Africa scrapyards were imported decades ago.  Yes, they were reused and repaired for years.  Yes, the Tech Sector is innocent of "ewaste crime".  Yes, the piles around cities like Tamale and Accra are abandoned repairs - just like the TVs abandoned at Massachusetts repair shops, documented in the September 2000 Jobs Through Recycling: Electronics Reuse and Recycling Infrastructure in Massachusetts report.

But no, they are not going away on their own.  Ghana needs the same thing Massachusetts needed in the 1990s - a way to fund a practical, inexpensive, recycling infrastructure.

At small shops (above, Savelugu village) and large shops (below, Tamale), there is evidence of persistent and cumulative CRT debris, accumulated at repair shops.  We've been interviewing these shops and find the exact same thing we saw in Massachusetts in the 1990s.  It is not that the TVs were delivered unrepairable, or that African technicians can't repair them.  It's more simple than that.

The tech above was repairing a TV that was 40 years old!  At a certain point, people deliver old TVs for repair, but never come get them.  They don't pay the repairman, because they would rather put that money towards an "elective upgrade" to a newer television.

When I was at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in the 1990s, TV repair shops began charging a $50 deposit from customers who left a TV, repairable or not, because people weren't coming back to get them. That's what we are seeing in Africa.

The e-waste NGO from Seattle has tried saying that these junk TVs arrived at port "days earlier" and are somehow distributed to these piles 12 hours drive from the port in a pattern of "externalization".   But there are not 500 sea containers per month arriving at Agbogbloshie. The average number is 0, the peak number is 0, and the lowest number is 0.

No, the TVs in these piles did not arrive "days earlier" as Jim Puckett claimed.  There is no scapegoat, no evil recycler, no bad guy.

There was externalized VALUE, not cost.  But the value depreciated, and after several decades consumers in Africa make the same rational decision that consumers in OECD countries make.  That is, NOT to pay to have a device repaired after 30 years.

Some of course do.  Ibrahim Alhassan, the repairman in Savelugu, is 50 years old.  He was working on a Japanese Matsui when we arrived, a 1980s model.  But his own shop was full of "second thoughts" repair jobs.  He said he COULD repair them, they were mostly repairable, but that he couldn't afford to fix them for free.  Same as Boston, Worcester and Springfield Massachusetts TV repairpeople in 1998.

So no manufacturer is to blame for making faulty TVs.  No importer is to blame for importing 80% junk.  No repair skills are needed from iFixit or ReStart.  Things just eventually die, and if an African repairman dies, he leaves a pile of e-waste.

What we did in Massachusetts, during the JTR Report, was cultivate natural "collectors".  We gave grants to recyclers who picked up from Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul shops.  We surveyed hundreds of repair shops.  We weren't looking for "bad guys", we made a cooperative infrastructure that was paid for mostly by the solid waste bulky costs government would be paying anyway if the TVs, like mattresses, were never "hazardous" and had to be taken to a landfill or incinerator.

How do we do the same thing for Africa?

Launching 2020 Vision, the E-Waste Offset model.  We will use the revenues from good reuse import sales to offset collections from these "accumulator" sites in Ghana.  Lots more to come.

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