- General News
- Oil And Gas
- Feature Articles
Shaibu Iddrisu is the chairman of the Agbogbloshie Scrap Dealers Association in Ghana’s capital Accra. He has been in the scrap business for more than 20 years. He knows about the value of scrap metals, but has no idea about the dangers of e-waste. He only knows that young men burn cables in the yard to extract the valuable copper wires in computer monitors and CPUs for sale. “I know that the boys dismantle computers and burn the cables for the copper wires, and I have advised them against the practice because the soot isn’t good for them,” he says.
The Agbogbloshie scrap yard has become a dump site for obsolete computers and other electronics equipment like refrigerators, TV sets and sound systems. Young men struggling to make a living from whatever scrap they could lay hands on have found unusable computers useful. On a daily basis they go around looking for discarded electronics items to either buy or pick up from street corners to dismantle, extract copper wires and other valuable parts for sale.
Computer monitor and CPU cases litter the length and breadth of the yard, and some people even use them as stools.
An EU directive requires e-waste to be collected and imposes strict requirements on the treatment of this waste. In general, export of e-waste to non OECD countries is prohibited, whereas, for example, the export of a used but fully functional television set to a non OECD country is permitted.
At the burning grounds, heavy black and pungent smoke wafts through the air. The suffocating and acrid smell of the burning cables can be smelt over a long distance before you reach the place where the mostly young men and boys set fire to computers, TVs and refrigerator parts. Some of these boys are as young as 10 or 12 years old. They are usually contracted by older men to burn the cables and extract the copper wires for a small fee. They wear neither gloves nor any protective clothing. Some of them are bare chested as they rummage through the items they have to process for onward sale to scrap dealers who buy the items for onward export to Europe.
No-one knows how many tonnes of obsolete computers enter Ghana from Europe or the United States, but it is believed thousands are shipped into the country and a good number of these end up being dismantled and precious parts extracted for sale. According to a report published by the Basel Action Network and the Silicon Valley Toxins Coalition titled ‘Exporting Harm: The Techno-Trashing of Asia’, between 50 to 80 per cent of e-waste collected for recycling in the United States is exported to developing nations such as China, India and Pakistan, where the environment is being polluted and local men, women and children are being exposed to toxins.
According to the European Environment Agency (EEA) more than 15,000 tonnes of colour television sets were exported from the EU to African countries in 2005. On average 35 tonnes, or more than 1000 units of used television sets, arrive every day in Ghana, Nigeria or Egypt. “It would appear that the EU exports a significant quantity of used electrical and electronic products to developing countries that do not have an adequate waste management infrastructure,” the EEA report ‘Waste Without Borders’ concluded. “These are then probably subject to treatment that poses a threat to the environment and human health.”
People like Baba, obviously, are ready customers for importers of obsolete computers into Ghana. “We have some people who bring us the goods (computers) and we buy them for GH¢4 each and then we dismantle them and take the cables and other parts for sale,” Baba, a 26-year-old man, says. Baba has been in the scrap business for about six years. It is one of the ways he could make money to survive, because he said he had no other means of making a living.
Baba and his colleagues who dismantle the items, do so without any protective gear and they do it in the open.
Mohammed is in his 20s, too. He lives with his parents in a part of Accra called Darkuman. He is one of the occasional suppliers of obsolete computers and other electronics items to people like Baba.
“I have an uncle in Germany who brings the items,” he says. “We sort them out and fix the ones we can and those that can’t be fixed we sell out to the boys to use as scrap.”
Apart from individuals who export obsolete electronics equipment into Ghana, it is believed some organisations drop e-waste into Ghana under the guise of making donations, such as secondhand computers, to schools.
During a check at Ghana’s main sea port, the Tema Harbour, most of the containers that arrived from abroad carrying personal effects also contained a number of used computers. Some of the computers are very old versions such as 486s and Pentium Twos.
Mike Anane, president of the League of Environmental Journalists and a UN Environmental Award winner, believes that most of the e-waste that comes into Ghana is deliberately dumped.
“I have seen e-waste products labeled ‘Property of the US Government’, ‘US honey’ and ‘Property of the Scottish Government’ and so on,” he says.
Meanwhile, Ghana has no policy on the handling and management of e-waste. The country has, however, ratified the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal.
A source at the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana says the country has no specific policy on the handling and management of e-waste, but some consultations are ongoing to develop some mechanism to deal with the issue.
The source indicated that some documents have been submitted to the immediate past government and was hopeful that the current government would give it some attention.
A report by the international environmental group Greenpeace that focused on two dump sites in Ghana raised further questions about the harm caused to Ghanaians who handle e-waste. The investigations were carried in the capital Accra and the Eastern regional capital of Koforidua with soil and water samples from the two sites. According to the report, tests showed that the soil and water around the dump sites contained toxic chemicals at levels a hundred times more than allowable limits.
On top of that, further investigations into the practice of exporting e-waste has implicated the UK government, with British newspapers revealing that computers belonging to the National Health Service (NHS) and universities had been exported to Ghana, via recycling companies.
Damaged computers found at the Agbogbloshie dump site in Accra had NHS labels on them. Other PCs were found to have been the property of UK councils and universities, including Kent County Council, Southampton County Council, Salford University and Richmond upon Thames College.
The UK Environment Agency (EA) initiated investigations into e-waste following the discoveries in Ghana.
“The Environment Agency’s National Investigations Crime Team are carrying out inquiries within England and Wales into the circumstances of the alleged illegal exports and we are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry,” senior press officer responsible for environment protection, Scarlett Elworthy, says.
In February, a 46-year-old man in South Sussex was arrested in connection with e-waste exports. The EA said he has been released on bail waiting to appear in court in May 2009. But it declined to say to which country the suspect was allegedly exporting e-waste.
In March this year, the Dutch police on a routine operation stopped a container full of obsolete electronics from leaving the Amsterdam port for Ghana. The container full of broken electrical and electronics equipment from a popular chain store, which should have been turned over to recycling companies, were instead sold to be exported to Ghana.
Some days later, eight men were arrested for allegedly exporting e-waste to Ghana. According to Dutch journalist Weert Schenk, three of the men were from Turkey and the other five were Ghanaians. He said the men are suspected to have been in the business of exporting e-waste into Ghana for more than six years.
For some time now a number of shops have sprang up in and around Accra, and most of these are dealing in used electronics items.
Kwame works in one of these shops at Kaneshie, in Accra. He says they have suppliers in Europe who bring these items to them. He says some of the items come in broken, but they try to fix those they can.
When asked what happens to the ones they are unable to repair, he says: “we sell them out to those who use them as scrap, and we also take out some parts and use to repair faulty items”.
Ghanaian authorities will continue to do their paper work, as Ghana is buried under a pile of e-waste from the developed world.
Credit: Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
Source: Government News, Australia