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Earth Technology

Agbogbloshie: The World's Largest e-Waste Dump 117

kc123 writes "Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world's largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s."
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Agbogbloshie: The World's Largest e-Waste Dump

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  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @10:26PM (#46364793)

    Dispose of my stuff in the proscribed manner at the municipal dump. TV's here, computers there, light bulbs in that shed, batteries one over.... but how do I know they aren't just paying to have that stuff shipped overseas?

    E waste. Plastic in the ocean. Pharmaceutical water contamination. We are f'ed.

    • by WWJohnBrowningDo ( 2792397 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @10:33PM (#46364829)

      Dispose of my stuff in the proscribed [] manner at the municipal dump.

      It's probably not smart to brag about your illegal activities on the Internet :)

    • by macraig ( 621737 )

      Are you just baiting us or do you really not know? Overseas is EXACTLY where all that stuff goes. Virtually none of it remains to be processed in the United States. Much of it also winds up in similar locations in China.

      • by Burdell ( 228580 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @11:34PM (#46365093)

        False []. Yet another endlessly repeated "truth" based on invalid or non-existent studies.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday February 28, 2014 @12:57AM (#46365357) Homepage

          The United States International Trade Commission, "the agency determines the impact of imports on U.S. industries", [], when they asked companies for what they thought for marketing purpose how much waste they dump in foreign markets, those companies replied we do not dump waste, we buy waste disposal services at world competitive rates and what those waste disposal services according to the paper work they receive, they dispose of it according to law in the countries where it is dumped 'er' recycled.

          When you sell it to a disposal company and they dump it in foreign markets you are dumping it in foreign market forget the PR=B$ especially from a government department that is just chock a block full of political appointees and is lead around by the nose by US corporate political campaign donors. From them you will get the "truth" but most definitely not the truth.

        • by macraig ( 621737 )

          That is contrary evidence that I'm not prepared to dispute, but I still have to wonder where all the CRTs and American-looking PC chassis in TFA's photos might have come from, if not the United States?

          • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Friday February 28, 2014 @04:20AM (#46365823) Homepage

            American-looking PC chassis

            As opposed to the foreign-looking ones they have in other countries?

            • by macraig ( 621737 )

              Hey, they looked American to me! Doesn't Dell have a patent on fan grills and such?

              • by Anonymous Coward

                And Dell don't sell out side the US. Little known fact. IBM never sell a thing out side the US. Apple... The reason the Brits hate America is while they get the adverts no units are ever sold in the UK.

              • Actually, I noticed that picture too. The three in middle lack an ATX connector plate, have the IEC female connector for the monitor power, and have eight slots for expansion slots. Those are old PCs, probably 286's or 386's. Maybe a 486. That does kind of suggest the US, because back then (late 80's, early 90's) most of the IBM-compatibles were sold in the US, though they were certainly available overseas. Probably kind of unusual to run across something like that in what must be a sea of discarded P4

                • by macraig ( 621737 )

                  I have a working '486 VLB motherboard system myself, 4 MEGAbytes of RAM, wow! I had the parts mothballed for decades and last year finally rebuilt a working system from it. I should be one of the people selling that stuff on eBay....

        • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

          While there might be some "truth" to that story, it's sure not all be done here. You can bet that many companies who are full of overstock on materials to reclaim find it easier to rent a few dozen cargo containers and simply pack them full and file them over. And since we inspect under 1% of the outgoing and less than 3% of the incoming, you're just trusting that "commercial recyclable waste" isn't electronic components, but bulk metal, and so on. My time as a shipper/receiver for a company over a decad

    • You shouldn't really worry about it, because in all likelihood the alternative for the people there is worse. Our garbage is now a jobs program overseas, even though we didnt intend it to be.

      What are we going to do about it, after all? Start up a real jobs program for these people? Its not exactly our responsibility to provide jobs to people on another continent.

      All the stuff about toxicity, cancer, and so on is a red herring. The alternative for them is zero income.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Cancer or chronic heavy metal poisoning is a better alternative to no income??
    • there have been reports of, when you turn your stuff into a 'recycling center' that they simply just throw it away, old school style, or send it to some 3rd world country for them to deal with.

      maybe it was on a penn/teller show, I forget.

    • You put it in a black garbage bag and throw it in with the general trash. The way I look at it, it's better that we're polluting our own country than fucking up one that barely has a government and the people have little say in what we dump there.

      I've known about these African cesspools for at least 10 years now (I think they featured them on 60min once) and I've refused to "properly" dispose of my e-waste ever since. I also refuse to participate in e-waste programs at work and take the opportunity to infor

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @10:31PM (#46364823)

    If any statement needs a fact checking, that one does. I call bullshit.

    • by Squiggle ( 8721 )

      Couldn't find much about cancer rates except people repeating that particular line. However, this seems reiable and seems pretty deadly:
      from []
      "Samples taken around the perimeter of Agbogbloshie, for instance, found a presence of lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in soil."
      From wikipedia:
      "No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known sufficiently small amount of lead that will not cause harm to the body."

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered—that is, there is no known sufficiently small amount of lead that will not cause harm to the body."

        When you get down to levels in natural streams that people and animals are able to live off without any obvious consequences, in the sub-ppb level, then you are effectively safe in this context considering:

        "Samples taken around the perimeter of Agbogbloshie, for instance, found a presence of lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in soil."

        Assuming that is using a comma as a thousands separator, that is 1.8% lead content in the soil, that is ten times as much lead per weight than leaded fuel, and on par or more than the amount of lead in lead based paints.

      • "No safe threshold for lead exposure has been discovered"

        Yes, it is true that lead is dangerous. Lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, and even death. But there is little evidence that it causes cancer. It kills you in other ways. So if it is true that "most workers die from cancer in their 20s", it is not the lead that is causing it. Most likely that "factoid" was just made up by some journalist. Ghana is not that poor compared to the rest of Africa, and I doubt that these people would be stupid enough to engage in an activity if it was really an au

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          Maybe not stupid. Desperate with people to send money back to perhaps. History is full of people selling themselves into everything up to and including a short life as a slave for the benefit of people they care about.
          Plus at 20 anyone that doesn't know better feels pretty fucking invincible. They could see it as a death sentence for the unlucky.
          One of my grandfathers worked at an arsenic mine that was badly run. In hindsight it was an automatic death sentence but it took three decades for everyone who
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah probably bullshit, they don't have time to develop cancer, they die off from lung diseases, heavy metal poisoning and all that fun way before cancer has time to kick in.

      Probably impossible to get accurate stats anyway, nobody bothers to count how many live/die and who bothers putting a diagnosis on what killed them.

  • Headline that's complete gibberish.
  • This is a Hoax (Score:5, Informative)

    by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @11:47PM (#46365135) Homepage Journal

    - Cities in Africa have had TVs for decades, generate their own "e-waste". Nigeria had 6.9M households with TV in 2007 (World Bank)

    - According to the UN, the 6B people in "emerging markets" generate far more e-waste, and far more ewaste trade, than OECD nations.

    - African importers have no financial interest in paying to import junk.

    - UNEP studies of seized "e-waste" in Lagos and Accra found 91% reuse and repair, better than brand new sales.

    - The Western Accuser ( earns money from "certifying" that recyclers don't export, has a $$ interest in the accusations

    The Western Accuser admits to fabricating the statistics about 80% e-waste exports. They lied and admit they lied. []

    These stories belittle the techs in Africa who tinker and repair, for financial gain among manufacturers intent on "planned obsolescence". "Parasites of the poor" is the label for these stories in Africa.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      It's not a hoax. It's a complicated issue, with advocates from multiple sides of the issue *all* playing fast and loose with the "facts", since they are mostly PR advocates. Reading that comment thread really was an excruciating reminder that some people will take an argument to great length for its own sake, or for the sake of a grudge.

      E.G. it does not matter much whether a TV with 1 year of life left in it goes directly into a third-world dump, or spends a year in a house before it gets there. It does

      • by Anonymous Coward

        with advocates from multiple sides of the issue *all* playing fast and loose with the "facts"

        When doesn't an advocate play fast and loose with the facts?

      • Hmm. A CRT with one year left of life on it? That would be, what, a 24 year old CRT? Those are what is photographed at the Agbogbloshie and Lagos dumps, for sure. But when UN examined the sea containers, and Greenpeace filmed them, they found 10 year old TVs, some taken from hotel - flat-screen-replacements. The hypothesis that the Africans are buying goods that will only last an average of one year is an interesting one, but I don't think they could accomplish that buying used product even if they t

    • Re:This is a Hoax (Score:5, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Friday February 28, 2014 @04:49AM (#46365917) Homepage Journal

      The third world is undoubtedly bad, but the only way we can get them to clean up is if we clean ourselves up first. If we create products that are easier to recycle and then develop disposal systems that avoid dumping them poorer nations will soon join in because there is money to be made. We treat waste like a problem we have to pay to make go away, where as these guys have already figured out that it can be profitable if you don't care about health and safety.

      Additionally the US is doing quite badly compared to Europe. Were are your restrictions on exporting to places that dump, or your equivalent of RoHS? The bar has been set.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        What exactly is supposed to be the problem here? The only way "we" get the third world to clean up is by making them part of the first world. The first world went through its own polluting stage and it came out fine.
    • The fact that responsible recycling is occurring doesn't change the fact that irresponsible e-Waste burning is occurring any more than the fact that America is full of obese people changes the fact that there are literally children starving in America.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @11:58PM (#46365173)

    Compare the photos in the Slashdot submission to these []

    And none of the TVs in this photo were imported from western nations. None of them. So, of the 1% of these shown in TFA, how many were actually imported? Or is the point to think about the sad Negro children paid $1 to stand on the husks of TVs thrown out by African cities?

  • Worst of the bunch (Score:5, Informative)

    by Blaskowicz ( 634489 ) on Friday February 28, 2014 @12:02AM (#46365187)

    This is what you come upon when you go filming the poor amongst the poor. Yet again a relatively small are is shown, this time around the RT monitor stands. It looks like a problem of law enforcement, lack of recycling infrastructure for terminal waste and lack of employment for these people.
    Don't fall for e-waste scare again. Actual numbers tell that the vast majority of it is recycled and reused. This was covered already but here's one witness example : []

    "A handful of countries in the developed world don't like the ban," Puckett said. "Some countries have ratified the Basel Convention but don't agree to the ban."

    Ingenthron disagrees with the definition of electronic equipment exported for repair as hazardous. He said those exports account for about 8% of the 13 million pounds Good Point processes, and provide a livelihood for Third World entrepreneurs.

    Wahab Mohammed, 36, of Accra, Ghana, relies on Good Point to provide an inventory of used computers and more for his business in Ghana.

    "I buy TVs, computers, speakers, amplifiers and stereos," Wahab said last month as he roamed the maze of shrink-wrapped mountains of equipment at Good Point. "When I take them back I have people who work for me. We resell everything, 80% to 90% we're able to make it work."

    Wahab tries to make the pilgrimage to Good Point every three or four months, splitting his time between Middlebury and Accra. He's planning to open a recycling plant in Ghana.

    "In Africa laptops cost more than here brand new," Wahab said. "My customers appreciate me bringing in used laptops they're able to buy for $100. I still make money."

    In fact what you see in TFA is not our waste, but Ghanans's waste. The news is they're dumping CRT PC monitors (looks like 17 inchers), probably because they're too expensive to run, and some of them may just have failed.
    Africans don't want to buy our discarded CRTs these days and no goodwill organisation will pay for the shipping either.

    I would also like to know what happens to TFA's pile of five PC on the moped. "PCs and electronic devices that look in reasonable condition are sold untested in Accra". Well three are AT, so a bit crap (but may contain hard drives, etc., and may serve some limited use or as thin clients), two are ATX and so are USB, can do MP3 playback, file transfers to from USB flash drives or cell phones, word processing or accounting ; probably divx playback (the bottom one is color-coded, thus powerful) . Just don't turn it on often.

    • In fact what you see in TFA is not our waste, but Ghanans's waste. The news is they're dumping CRT PC monitors (looks like 17 inchers), probably because they're too expensive to run, and some of them may just have failed.

      You're really a colossal idiot if you don't think we're still disposing of monitors. I still see people selling them on craigslist every day, let alone giving them away.

      • by n1ywb ( 555767 )
        We are still disposing of them, yes, there's always crates full of them at the dump (in Vermont). There's no used market for them though. I see people trying to sell them, but I never see anybody buy them. Their value is in the negative numbers; IE you typically have to pay to get rid of them. Even the thrift stores sell LCDs now. Only a fool would pay money for a CRT in this market.
        • Their value is in the negative numbers; IE you typically have to pay to get rid of them.

          And that is how they end up in a former wetland, being used as a stepping stone.

          Only a fool would pay money for a CRT in this market.

          There's one born every minute, and he's soon parted from his money.

    • > Ghana...(looks like 17-inchers)

      There's a politically incorrect joke in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

  • In 2013 1.81 billion mobile devices were shipped. Half of them are going to become (deliberately? ) obsolete by 2015.

    If China had not implimented the one child policy decades ago , they would have the worlds largest landfills today!

    One mobile device per company !!! is the need of the hour. Besides that will keep the devices sane and force them to include all features into one flat priced device.
  • ...but it's not as bad as this: [] []

    What in the unholy hell is wrong with people? I'm not religious, but my God.
  • Choose a hazardous job, you might get sick and die. So the point here is?

  • by ( 595837 ) <slashdot@advid.COMMAnet minus punct> on Friday February 28, 2014 @05:07AM (#46365961) Journal

    Quoting previous articles:

    In Pictures: Ghana's e-waste magnet []
    E-waste at the Agbogbloshie dumpsite near Accra has created a socio-economic and environmental disaster.
    Kevin McElvaney, 12 Feb 2014

    Inside Ghana's electronic wasteland []
    Dangerous practice of burning electronic waste to extract metals could be made safely obsolete.
    Chris Stein, 02 Nov 2013

  • Why they are burning this stuff?
    I understand picking through it to find sellable parts, possibly smashing it down to extract some metal etc, but why burn the rest? To save the space?

    • I did that a couple times. Want to use speaker cables? You can cut the cable at the desired length with a pair of scissors, then if you're lazy, burn the end of the cable with a cigarette lighter to bare it. Ditto with CAT5 pairs (the tiny inner wires - I don't suggest burning what surrounds them), there the pollution is tiny is comparison.

      (Don't buy thick high end speaker cables, they're useless and a rip off.. and they're harder to rip off?)

    • Bored unemployed teenagers. See photos.
    • by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
      When you burn it, everything you don't want goes up in smoke leaving behind everything you do want. In the United States, copper theft is very high. This almost always means burning what you stole to get at the copper - otherwise no one will buy it. I live not 10-minutes away from a scrapyard that buys the most obviously stolen copper. If you bring in 80 pounds of heavy-duty copper wiring with the plastic still on it, they won't purchase it because they can't accurately weigh it. Also, they can't legally b
  • Seriously, if a bunch of people can make a living by being horribly inefficient, then surely some smart engineers can extract the valuables from this by building a good process?

    I mean, even if you improve organization a little, and you build a furnace with a rudimentary smoke filter, this situation would be immensely improved for everyone. Those people make a better living, and the smoke coming off it wouldn't be half as bad... (Although, if someone would actually build that, it would be reported as 'Wester

  • First off, it is not right to pollute all over. We are killing all sorts of ppl, and wildlife.
    BUT, just as big of a reason is that there are a large number of elements in these. These can be burned safely with the waste heat used for thermal electricity, and then the elements are saved off by. Heck, we paid for them once, and with recycling here, we can make use of these.
    Regardless, it is time to pass a law barring any shipping off of e-waste to other undeveloped nations.
  • To add to the imagery and stories we see in the posts above, a friend of mine recently went to Agbogbloshie to film a documentary about damage being done, to connect with the people who's live are impacted by this environmental atrocity. A trailer for the documentary has been cut and is available here:

    It is a good thing that here on slashdot, its relevance is being shown to the perfect audience. We need/must to do something about this.
    The question I have, is, how d

  • Must be returned and recycled exactly where it came from.
    Ghana does not make/assemble/profit from eletronics industry.
    Return it to whomever profited the most from it.

"Being against torture ought to be sort of a bipartisan thing." -- Karl Lehenbauer