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Ghana (Agbogbloshie) – E-Waste Recycling

the details…
Key pollutant
Heavy metals, particulates, lead, mercury, PCBs, PAH, phalates
Burning and dismantling of e-waste

Air, water, soil, direct contact

Population affected
Children Under 6 Affected
DALYs averted
Projected 4,767
Informal E-waste recycling
Cost of project
As of June 2015 - USD 149,060 has been spent to date, and USD 77,805 remains to be spent
United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), European Commission, Global Alliance for Health and Pollution (GAHP), Addax & Oryx Foundation
Project Partners
  • City University of New York, School of Public Health
  • EPA Ghana
  • Ghana Health Service
  • Ghana, Ministry of Environment
  • Global Alliance for Health and Pollution (GAHP)
  • Greater Accra Scrap Dealers Association (GASDA)
  • Green Advocacy Ghana (GreenAd)
  • National Youth Authority
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

June 2015 Project Update

It has been eight months since Pure Earth opened the E-waste Recycling Center with automated wire-stripping units.  The project team has been assessing what is working and what is not, as we enter the next phase of the project.

Lessons learned:  While the mechanized wire-strippers currently installed work well for larger cables, they are not able to process the thin bundles of electrical cables, often coming from car electrical systems, which continue to be burned. A shredding machine, called a granulator and separator, will be installed in the E-waste Recycling Center in July 2015. This machine chops up the wires, separates the metals from the plastic coating, and dispenses the materials in two separate streams.

The project team will be onsite, working with partner organizations, Greater Accra Scrap Dealers Association and Green Advocacy Ghana, to install, test and train workers in the center on this new technology.

The project remains on schedule and on budget. Pure Earth received funds from EC/UNIDO, Comic Relief, The Addax & Oryx Foundation, and BI Reserve totaling USD 226,865 for this project. In total, USD 149,060 has been spent to date, and USD 77,805 remains to be spent.

Activity for the next phase the project will be determined after an assessment of the effectiveness of the recycling center, and with input from the local recyclers and partner NGOs.

The Problem

The Agbogbloshie scrap metal site in Accra is Ghana’s largest center for electronic waste (e-waste) recycling and disposal. Workers manually disassemble parts and burn off the plastic encasements on computer wires and refrigerator coils to recover profitable metals. The work is often done by young adults using handmade tools and without protective equipment, leaving them susceptible to respiratory diseases and overexposure to lead.

After anything of value has been stripped away, the bulk is then dumped untreated into unlined pits and waterways. An additional health hazard is the black smoke that continuously hovers over the site, resulting from piles of copper cables that are lit to burn off the plastic coatings. In order to keep the fires burning, old car tires are also added to the flames, creating a toxic environment far and wide. Air pollution from the burning affects workers as well as those living and working nearby.

Project Activity

In 2010, Blacksmith Institute, in partnership with GreenAd Ghana, the Ghana Health Service, and the City University of New York School of Public Health conducted an assessment of the occupational and environmental exposures of electronic waste recyclers in Agbogbloshie Market. The research produced comprehensive documentation that e-waste processing, especially the burning of copper wires, exposes workers, local residents and family members to hazardous levels of heavy trace elements.

Pilot Project: January-October 2014

In January 2014, Blacksmith Institute and GreenAd Ghana began a pilot project by setting up a basic e-waste recycling facility that would enable recyclers to stop burning wire and instead strip it in a way that was efficient and profitable. Funding for the pilot project came from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), through the Global Alliance for Health and Pollution (GAHP).

The first phase of the e-waste recycling facility opened on October 10, 2014.

Expansion of the Project: October 2014-June 2015

GASDA has a vision to promote Agbogbloshie as a recycling knowledge centre by setting up a model e-scrap facility that protects livelihoods while minimizing the adverse health and environment risks of scavenging and exposure to toxic substances.

During Stage 2 of the project, from October 1, 2014-June 30, 2015, more machines were purchased and workers trained. The project purchased the wires and other recyclable materials from recyclers who previously burned the materials. Workers were trained to use the appropriate machines to cleanly disassemble the materials and directly export the metals, plastics, and other sellable items. In this way, recyclers would maintain profits without polluting, and trained workers would increase profits by being in direct contact with exporters and selling clean materials that have not been burned. GASDA, which employed the trained workers, used some of the profits to maintain the facilities and machines.

Extension into 2016

The project has been extended into 2016. We are currently making site improvements and setting up the maintenance fund. As there was no market for stripped or shredded plastics, these will be encapsulated in concrete and a thorough report about project successes and failures will be published. In addition, two monitors are now on site to collect PM2.5 data.

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Learn more on the Ghana projects page.