The E-Waste Mega Dump of Agbogbloshie

in travelfeed •  2 months ago  (edited)

You are such a conscientious citizen of the world! You wouldn’t dump that old computer in the bin. Heaven forbid! There’s the ecological future of our glorious planet to think of, let alone your privacy! You’re happy to drive ten miles to the nearest “e-waste” point! You’ll go home, confident that you’ve done the right thing. It’s nice to stop thinking about things once they’re out of your hands… but although we hate to bust your bubble, we think you should know. Right now, your computer is in Agbogbloshie, Ghana. It’s definitely not being deconstructed in an ecologically-sound manner. And it’s probably being hacked into.

We learned a lot about the Western scam of “recycling” while we were in Ghana. All those old shirts you’ve so thoughtfully given to a charity? They’re in a dump in Ghana. All the plastic waste you so carefully separate from the paper waste? It’s in a dump in Ghana. And your computers, tablets, phones, and other assorted electronics? They’re in Ghana. In the best case, they’re being burned by children, the thick black clouds poisoning surrounding communities and melted metals running into the ground water. Worst case, they’re being hacked into, and mined for data. And then being burned.

It’s an absolute scandal, and one that nobody wants to recognize as even existing. It’s not nice to think about, and all the powerful players get to profit under the current system. Europe and America win by having somewhere to ship off their junk, and wipe their hands clean, pretending that they’ve done their part. Ghana’s government wins by gobbling up those juicy foreign contracts. But it’s a fact. If you dump your computer in a legitimate “safe” location, it’s entirely possible that it will end up at Agbogbloshie, in an unbelievable collection of other properly-disposed-of junk. Don’t kid yourself.

Ghanaians are enterprising, and they’ve come to understand the secret value of the treasure being deposited at their doorstep. So, they’ve taught themselves to recover data from busted hard drives. They know how to get sensitive information, and what to do with it. Scams originating from Agbogbloshie are so prevalent, that they’ve given rise to a new culture: the Sakawa Boys. These guys mine data, steal identities, impersonate lovers… and have become the feted robber barons of the country. As easy as it is to demonize their actions, it’s equally easy to understand the popular appeal of enterprising young Africans stealing from those who dump trash in their country.

Our visit to Agbogbloshie was insane. This is not on the regular tourism itinerary, and we can only beg that you discard the idea of going yourself, or ensure that you know exactly what you’re doing and use extreme caution. Know a local who can get you in. Bring cash for bribes. Do not just start taking pictures willy-nilly. The Sakawa Boys are not messing around, and they don’t exactly love the idea of foreigners trespassing on their territory.

Agbogbloshie is an immense mountain of electronic junk, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We got as close as possible with our car, then started walking toward it … and almost immediately, we found trouble. Jürgen, sweet Jürgen, who absolutely cannot control himself in a situation like this, despite understanding the danger, had started photographing a bunch of guys melting cables. And these guys were displeased. Terror arose in my lungs as they approached, and started demanding answers. Luckily, our guide was able to talk them down (with the help of a little money), and we were permitted to continue. Our guide pleaded with us to not take any more pictures without explicit consent; the men who had confronted us weren’t just regular locals, but part of an organized mafia … as deadly serious as any in Sicily.

And now that we knew there was a system, even a hierarchy, the activity at the trash mountain started to make sense. There were people whose “job” was apparently to fish out phones. Others in charge of finding wires and cables. Others who went for laptops, and still others for motors. These treasures would be hauled off … some to be mined, others to be burnt. It’s unclear who “pays” the people to melt the trash (if anyone), but we could just imagine what happens with the laptops — some of which seemed to be in perfect condition.

Our bribe to the cable-burners had been sufficient that they allowed us to take more pictures, and even fly our drone over the immediate area. And the true, nauseating reality came to life from the air. We could see a river of plastic trash — literally, something that used to be a river, now reduced to an immobile collection of plastic bottles. We could see the various piles of noxious electronics burning, polluting the air with thick, black smoke. (Our own apartment, not far away, was heavily affected by this pollution. Every day, we mopped our front steps, horrified by how much black soot had accumulated, and wondering how much we had already inhaled.)

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What's going on beyond the veil of first world privilege, as a result of first world privilege*, is absolutely horrifying. I'd come across bits and pieces of this reality (the scam as you call it) when the truth of the audit trail makes its rare rounds, but for the most part, and on average, we're all in the dark.


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And we're supposed to stay in the dark, to protect the profits of a few! We could be so much more advanced!!!!

You guys are absolutely crazy, as is your guide to take you there!!!

It's rediculous how many people throw away their computers just because its running too slow on Windows. My hubby is actually running a little project to recycle old computers to run on Linux which will extend their life for much longer. I'm sure he'd love to get his hands on some of those computers!

Crazy it was ... and I never, ever set foot there again. I love the idea to give computers a second chance and as for us we keep all of our laptops and have already a nice collection. Does your hubby have a website or other other presence on the Internetz?

I'm trying to find a decent Windows ME or Windows 98 computer for retro gaming. Kinda saddens me that so many computers that fit my needs are long gone to sites like this.

There is not even a way to prevent it really unless we organize ourselves. People think they're doing something great when they recycle. Even if you would show up at dropping off points where we live, they would not give / sell us any machines. Maybe you should get in touch with @livinguktaiwan hubby.

Apparently even when people recyle their old computers, only a small part of it may really be recycled and reused, most end up in dumps like these polluting the environment.

My hubby says Windows sucks up a lot of resources that why older PCs are so slow. He's repurposed about 6 or 7 to Linux, including his own which is about ten years old. It does it's every day job including watching videos and plaing Candy Crush ^_^ but it won't be fast enough for gaming which he doesn't do anyway.

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He's just doing this through asking friends locally because there's the cost and custom issues of getting people to send him old PCs.

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This is a total scam, scamming both the conscientious citizen who segregate their trashes and scamming the people of Ghana with this waste! It's scary to think that people can mine data but whoever organized this gave the mafia this opportunity.

I personally don't believe in most waste segregation anymore. I still do it but if you do it in a richer country, it will most likely just be sent off to a 3rd world. We have something a bit similar when Canada (and other countries) send their trashes to Philippines shores. They left us with used trash like diapers and was tagged as recyclable materials. Even those that are actually recyclable are unacceptable, we have too much waste to manage already so there should be no room for waste imports. So I find this story inhumane especially to the people of Ghana. To whoever ships those waste, I don't think they look at people from 3rd world country as humans. Just think of the unhealthy effect of this to the environment and its people.

Anyway, sorry for my rant. I'm glad that you are both safe aftet this experience. Truly brave for you to get first hand information for the world to see.

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It's truly shocking. I have real doubts about plastic recycling, I think it's not happening and it was only introduced so the consumer doesn't feel bad buying good wrapped double and triple in plastics. Something has to change!

Desperately poor people trying to make a living as best they know how. Dumping in Africa is not something new, this is good exposure as to where re-cycling goes, how it affects other nations.

Burning cable is to recover copper or metals that are then sold (toxic pollutions runs into water, air pollution, people, animals), old computer boards had some gold content that is recovered, certain old machinery will be repaired and sold.

Disgusted at how abuse is taking place! It is long overdue that people in first world take a good long hard look at the devastating effects their lifestyle imposes onto others, the poor nations have little say over what happens being ruled by greedy politicians.

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I totally agree and I must admit, I felt ashamed to come from a nation sending their trash to that place.

..ooohhh, no words...even if I knew it‘s existence, it is really shocking me extremely..i saw a documentary around 10years ago and that still was hard, but it s growing every second!..I remember everything was happening at a beach, where all these ships arrived..mostly children and young people were waiting this toxic garbage, they wear no shoes, no gloves, no security clothes..if it was a little ‚village‘ now it became a giant metropol!..the paradox is that they want to have this shit, there is no other way to gain a little money..seems that now there are clans and organizations dividing it by fighting with fists and maybe arms.. and they are still learning to use all pieces to deal with, especially the mountains of databases on the’s an evil business, wouldn’t work without the Mafiosi of the ‚first‘ world...but who and how could a solution be found, if all, also the governments and companies are still in this game and making fat profits?!...up..follow you..resteemed!..

This is a crazy eye opener. Thankyou for sharing your experience.

I think as consumers we actually have a little more power over this problem than we might think. We need to increase our appetite for goods made with recycled products and shun those that use virgin materials. Finding ways to reuse these materials is key, when demand for the resources is there, the desire to dump them will reduce.

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I also feel like it's time for companies to take responsibility, force them to take back their broken goods, let them recycle and reuse the materials they extract. But we let them do whatever they want so they can keep their profits. And as I mentioned before, the moment they're responsible for their products they will last much longer and are upgradeable.

I also think our elected governments have a lot to answer for as well, where they let their own greed and ambition outweigh action that is for the betterment of the constituents they are supposed to serve.

I think it's kind of crazy with what governments and companies are getting away. Also withholding information from us or down playing facts. This has to end, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!

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This is insane. Thanks a lot for sharing. So... What's the alternative for us?

It's so frustrating to see the truth about recycling. I think it's time to hold the company responsible, also car, energy companies and airlines. There are ways and technology to reduce our impact. Force manufacturers to take their broken products back, make them recycle these in the correct way. And you know what happens next, products will last longer. Also how we've been fooled by any company making profits with oil. There was no real change on how we produce and transport ourselves because the people making money with oil want zero change to protect their profits. Imagine how far we would be if instead of preventing progress people, company and governments would invest in progress. #produceitreduceit

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That is grim but not unexpected. The third world has been abused over and over again in history which is bound to repeat itself. It won't change either as money and power means a lot more to most governments than change and prosperity.

We also got a taste of corruption in Ghana. Foreign companies coming in, getting a free pass to do whatever they want to do as long as they pay up to a few people. See for example the article we wrote about the dam in Ghana creating the word's biggest manmade lake: The people of African countries deserve better.

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This is craziness! Thanks for braving the journey so the rest of us don't have to. I've been curious about our recycling since I learnt that China wasn't accepting it anymore... and that's when I learnt that the Chinese government had basically been dumping it and it's people would comb through for materials... so obviously it makes sense that Ghana has picked this up.

For everyone reading this... if you do throw away a computer or harddrive, you legitimately need to drill through them to protect your deleted data.

Yes, drill or open and smash the drive discs. I wish we could just drop all that stuff back to the manufacturers door step, forcing them to take it back in and they're actually responsible to recycle it in the correct way.

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It is just unbelievable sometimes how people abuse other countrys as their trash deposits .. but I am afraid this is one of the problem that will never be solced in hhe world, just shifted all the time through worlds history .. kind of sad but true

Our economics are sadly set up like this. For some to thrive, others have to suffer. This is just part of our history of being a human.

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is it a movie? NO its reality....... in the last years i travel across many countries i saw very shame places. Human is a crazy species...

Yes, when you're on the road you see many sad thins sometimes but this is the tip of the iceberg.

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I'm here because of a tweet by @niallon11. Sad to say, I'm not at all surprised by this - I heard rumblings of this type of trash dumping by the US a few years back, but it's still a bit shocking to see the extent, just in your pictures (and what a scary way to get them!). Thank you for this sobering view, and I hope something changes in the near future that has a positive impact on the pollution in your area.

Really great piece and the type of content we need to get more eyes onto. Thanks for checking it out.

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Thank you for stopping by!

I think everyone should see this - we drop off our goods at the recycling centers (also the EU is using this dump), sending them off to get "recycled" and we feel good about ourselves. I'd say if you're a company and produce it, it's on you to reduce it! They made the profit, they made the impact and they have to reduce it! Governments have to push responsibilities to them and not how they've done it for decades on to the consumer which as you can see gets lied to. As you can see drastically in this article.

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This is an astounding insight.
The photo look like a scene from a post apocalyptic movie. Can’t imagine what the burning smell must be like 24/7.

We really are sold a lie in the west.
Amazing post

We inhaled that stuff for a full month - I had a serious cough for a month after we left Accra! And these young kids know how dangerous and toxic it is to work on there but for one reason or the other they're forced to do this work.

Oh man that’s bleak.

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Wow-what an amount of waste!!! Simply impressive and scary...

And sad and frustrating!!!

Absolutely true your response!!!

Such a charade we live with. You have done such an amazing job of further exposing the depth of the corruption within the re-cycling industry. Images that say more than millions of words. ♥︎♥︎⚖️♥︎♥︎

Thank you so much for your comment and for checking out this I think important article.

I feel you and all I can say is viva la no waste minimalism lifestyle. It really makes me angry how can we think we are "developed" society. But also sometimes I calm myself with the thought that in time (yes, millions of years in the future) this will be what we now know as "the mine" 🤭. Our world leaders with supreme intelligent skills have the idea of a life cycle all wrong and obviously also many others. Why are we so blind for the real natural treasures that sustain life and improve lives of everyone involved. Here everyone also includes plants and animals and air and water, because we need each other.

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Ok...I forgot to thank you to bring up the important issue. Well done!

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We're so shortsighted and I actually do love that the younger generations finally take interest in their own future. Thank you for stopping by.