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Ghana boom in dangerous e-waste imports

Agbogbloshie waste dump in Ghana

© DanWatch/afrol News
afrol News, 17 June
- Despite international conventions prohibiting the export of dangerous waste to developing countries, enormous quantities of outdated and destroyed electronic equipment from Europe end up in Ghana's Agbogbloshie dump each week.

Only in the major port of Ghana, Tema, each month some 600 40-foot containers of outdated electronic equipment arrive from all over the world, mostly comprising of old computers, TVs and refrigerators. The traffic in waste or almost-waste products to Ghana is on the increase.

According to the activist groups DanWatch and Greenpeace, only about one quarter of the electronic goods are capable of being reused and end up in the stores of second-hand shops around the region. The rest, amounting to at least 450 containers each month, is pure waste and ends up in Ghana's largest waste dump Agbogbloshie.

Here, the electronic articles sum up to a large environmental problem due to their often dangerous components. In Europe or North America, their disposal would be expensive because of the need to treat these dangerous components in a responsible way. It is cheaper shipping the waste to Africa, disguised as second-hand articles.

The UN's Basle Convention is regulating the trade in waste products. According to this international agreement, dangerous waste articles, including electronic equipment, cannot be exported to developing countries. The reason is that developing countries mostly do not have an infrastructure to treat such waste in an environmentally just manner - and if they have it, it would be as expensive as in the country of the waste's origin. The export thus only serves the purpose of avoiding an environmentally justifiable treatment.

The cynical export of waste products recently was demonstrated by the Dutch company Trafigura's export of toxic oil waste products to Côte d'Ivoire, neighbouring Ghana, costing many lives.

In Ghana, where regulations are somewhat stricter than in Côte d'Ivoire, the current "import hit" is electronic waste articles. At very low cost, the waste products are received in Tema, where second-hand traders pick out the best pieces. The rest is sent to Agbogbloshie for a small fee.

But at Agbogbloshie waste dump, the partly dangerous articles are not treated in a sound manner. Most products are stored in meter-high levels or burnt in open air. In both cases, environmental toxics are spilt into the ground or into the air. According to DanWatch, "a health damaging smoke from the burning of cables is colouring the skies above Agbogbloshie black."

DanWatch, a Danish group monitoring the ethics of Danish trade, today provided documentation that even electronic waste from Danish municipalities with a high environmental awareness is ending up in Agbogbloshie. The question asked by DanWatch is "why".

Most institutions, businesses and consumers in Europe and North America are aware of their responsibility to discharge of their waste in an environmental manner and wish to act in a correct way. Especially electronic equipment, which maybe could be fixed or only is somewhat outdated, is collected by recirculation firms or NGOs, some promising a second life in Africa.

But often, only the worst pieces find their way to Africa. And as the Ghanaian research shows, most ends up in the local waste dump, harming the environment at the expense of future generations in Ghana.

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