Q: Are Millions of Tons of Western "e-Waste" Dumped in Agbogblshie, Ghana?


There is more and more "e-waste" in Africa.  But the West (Europe and USA) are exporting fewer and fewer containers of used electronics.   The implication is obvious... used electronics DID work for 5-15 years after they were imported - Africans are finally replacing TVs and computers they imported more than a decade ago.

There is no big story here, other than the fake news was faked and Joe Benson is in jail because of it.

More African city households have had multiple televisions since the 1990s.  But the "sources" for the foreign dumping claim have all dried up.

John Henry:  "Where did that @#$% statistic go?"
Containers of used equipment being imported into Ghana's port (Tema, not Accra) are not going directly to the Agbogbloshie scrap yard. That can be disproved from any editor's desktop, or by looking carefully at photos purporting to show it.

And there is no evidence of widespread violations of international law.  15% waste is the margin of accidental breakage, electrostatic discharge, human error, etc., and it's as likely (or more likely) to come from brand new product lots as from used.

The discussion is not about what happens to used electronic scrap.  This is about is how to feel about people, and how those feelings promote a political agenda with multiple stakeholders, winners and losers.

How to feel about poor people, how to feel about non-profits, how to feel about ourselves when we consume more goods, how to feel about ourselves as do-gooders and non-profit founders..?  That's far more interesting than which type of video display (used CRT or new LCD) an African with $3,000 annual income should invest in.

[Addendum 6/23/2015 - After forced evictions begin, Discard Studies essay by J. Lepawsky and G. Akese explains history and land politics]

2015 WR3A Report on Agbogbloshie: 13 Recommendations

We are in the important but slow phase of re-editing the 2015 Agbogbloshie Report. It takes time to include citations, make charts, get peer review, and especially to accommodate assertions made in this month's release of the UNEP Report. Suggestions have been made that we better recognize the "accidental nature" of misdiagnoses by well meaning members of the charitable industrial complex. (References to "hoax" and "nutjob" may make future researchers less likely to cite the report).

Statistical meat and photo-potatoes are hot and ready to eat. Presentation of the meal is important, however. We need the plates and garnishes. In the meantime, here are thirteen e-waste recommendations on the menu.

13 Recommendations E-Waste / WEEE Enforcement

Recommendation 1:  UN and Interpol should immediately stop arrests and searches of used electronic product (televisions, computers, cell phones).   Inspectors who were trained with the assumption of 80% waste, using Guidelines developed using the same assumptions, are likely to unfairly harass and harm Africa’s Technical Sector and create unnecessary enforcement and prison expenses in the EU.

Monkey Zoo Matrix Math: 2010 Okopol Study Crowned Oracle of E-waste

I have been trying to find a way to address last weeks UNEP Report... It's extremely frustrating because the report says next to nothing.   It's full of qualifiers and half statements and CYA.  So frustrating to see the headlines reporting that UN says 90% is dumped, when the actual report "says" next to nothing.  It implies, it insinuates, it uses racist photographs to depict Africa's tech sector.  But it says nothing.
Terrablight relies on Okopol's Oracle

But here's the nutshell.  It claims "e-waste" trade is worth $19 billion dollars.  And the way it comes up with that number is by capturing the legal and legitimate reuse and repair trade in its "waste" numbers.   It blames Africa's Tech Sector by shaming Africans who work in recycling.

So really, it is more useful to go to another 100+ page report written by some of the same actors, back in 2010.  A report which actually DID present numbers, and drew conclusions.

The 2010 Okopol Report.  
An apparent number crunching, quantifying treatise.   Which repeatedly cites Mike Anane, the "reporter" in Ghana, and surrounds his quotes with numbers that completely contradict Mr. Anane in every single case, leaving him without a single factually correct quote... but fails to throw the bum out.  Instead, it granted Mr. Anane a cloak of vettedness.   It made him the Oracle of the E-Waste Matrix.

The year Joe Benson was accused in the Independent, Guardian, BBC, and Daily Mail of exporting waste electronics from Europe and dumping them in Nigeria and Ghana, the following study had just come out... Mr. Anane was interviewed on BBC Panorama, showing "lead dust" (aluminum phosphor) inside the broken panel of a CRT.  Next Month, Interpol has invited Mike Anane (and paid his consulting fee) to address a roomful of Interpol Enforcement Staff, telling them about the E-Waste Matrix, where 75%-90% of goods Africans test and pay for are bad.  Even when most random tests in Germany find that more than that is good, Anane will tell them that somehow the African businesses, like Joe Benson's, are able to sense and pick out the bad ones to export.

Here are key sections of the 2010 Report which
A) Grant Credibility to Mike Anane, and
B) Prove His Claims to be Completely False.

| TEXTE | 22/2010 ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH OF THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF THE ENVIRONMENT, NATURE CONSERVATION AND NUCLEAR SAFETY Project No. (FKZ) 3708 93 300 Report No. (UBA-FB) 001331/E Transboundary shipment of wasteelectrical and electronic equipment /electronic scrap – Optimization ofmaterial flows and control by Knut Sander Stephanie Schilling ├ľkopol GmbH, Hamburg On behalf of the Federal Environment Agency (Germany)
"(Abstract)  In the countries of destination, the equipment encounters recovery and disposal structures, which are not suitable to ensure the protection of human health and the environment as well as the extensive recovery of resources."
This chestnut of a research paper tried to explain the "e-waste crime" and incentives of African "waste tourists" to export loads of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment).  In the Abstract, the authors don't even feel a need to cite the percentage of used electronics which are "bad", it's apparently taken for granted.

Evolution of RERA #eWaste Legislation: Spinning H.R. 2791 Obsolescence

Lobbying for the RERA Bill, to bring EU style enforcement to bear on secondary market electronics, keeps shifting parameters.   Here's a blow by blow on why exports of used electronics should (or shouldn't) be banned.   The justifications for both RERA and Interpol enforcement seem to go "obsolete" every 18-24 months... Moore's Law for accusations?  

Summary: H.R.2791 — 113th Congress (2013-2014)

(Note, the dialogue is equally effective in summarizing INTERPOL's Project Eden enforcement)

"The legislation is necessary because 80% of USA e-scrap is exported and dumped.  It was necessary to arrest Joe Benson and more like him.".

- No, actually USITC and MIT show conclusively that most is not exported (otherwise why would we have all those CRT glass piles?)

"We meant, The legislation is necessary because of what IS exported, 75% is simply dumped and recycled in primitive conditions.   It was necessary to arrest Joe Benson and more like him."

- No, actually 85%-93% is reused, not dumped, according to multiple peer reviewed UN studies.

"Ahem.  Thanks to the attention we brought, and arrest of Joe Benson, the situation is greatly improved.  Legislation is needed to continue this improvement."

- No, the studies were on the containers seized during his arrest.  It was literally the accused containers that were found to be 85%-93% reused.  He didn't do what you said.

"While the 80% dumping was exaggerated, 9-15% dumping is still completely unacceptable.  Legislation is needed so Africa will leapfrog into new product..."

- No.  Actually, brand new product imported to Africa was found to fail more often than the used equipment, either due to lightweighting (less durable, cheaper components susceptible to Africa's electric grid fluctuations), or shipment of "new" ESD damaged warranty returns to Africa.

The Truth About Used Electronics Exports

These shots of CRT Display Imports, taken between 2002-2007, were for reuse.  They were sustainable.  No mining or refining, the carbon and toxics and pollution made them the best way ever that three billion people could get online between 1995 and 2010.

It wasn't perfect of course.  More controversial "gray market" wasn't photo'd.   One Contract manufacturing plant, assembling brand new CRT monitors, also had a used SKD operation on another floor.  They insisted it was a different floor and that a used CRT could never be swapped out with a new one.  But of course that's how the whole sector started, bleeding used ones into new lines in the 1990s until there were actually more used ones than new ones in the early 2000s.  By then, 100% used refurbishing factories were the norm.  

CRT manufacturing for the West was in decline. Fortunately, there was a new "good enough market" where professionally assembled used goods became the most profitable in the sector.

Most of the buyers for these cheap, durable, affordable display devices has been in places like India, Egypt, and Indonesia.  The 3B3K, three billion people earning $3 thousand per year, who were getting telecom and ICT and satellite TV at 10  times the rate of growth of the rest of the world.  CRTs were on fire - in a figurative sense, not a literal one.

While the environmental NGOs were playing games with "percentages" understood by laypeople, some of us were actually travelling around the world documenting the purchase orders and uses of the export market.  The percentages make a lot more sense when you actually know what you are talking about, rather than making things up as you go along.

How do display devices move, geographically, around the world?

In the big geographic picture, here are 5 import-export scenarios:

Import 1. Reuse of secondary CRTs (Tema Port, Ghana)
Import 2. Raw materials for new CRT factories (Videocon, India)
Import 3. Clandestine reuse of 'passable' used CRTs into new CRT assembly lines (China 1990s)
Import 4. Whole 100% semi-knock-down (SKD) reuse factories, often converted from closed #3
Import 5. Import for recycling of junk CRT displays (Calexico, Mexico).
Import 6. Mixed lots of used electronics to be assessed in country or scrapped on receipt

Below is the evolution of the smallest cause - #6 - and how it grew to swallow our attention and become reported in the press as the largest illegal envionmental crime of our time... #ewastegate.

I'm working on the Agbogbloshie Report, and there's a lot of background that I can't really fit into it.  Since I haven't published on the blog in over a week, I thought I'd share some of the edited references which provide some history and perspective to #ewastegate.

People who don't know what they are talking about, making it up as they go along, get much farther if they festoon their reports with imagery of poor children.  It's like UNICEF, except not a penny, not one tiny penny, goes from E-Stewards donors to the poor in the photos.   It's macabre poverty porn, the Charitable Industrial Complex, and the history of the credible, peer reviewed reports which got us here are profiled below, so that we hopefully won't make the same mistakes again.

While I was producing this chart in 2008, I made a serious blunder.  It doesn't have any children's photos.