E-waste recycling for increased value in Accra | Knowledge Hub | Circle Lab

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Policy case
E-waste recycling for increased value in Accra
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Informal e-waste recycling practices at Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, Ghana, were widely recognized as unsafe and inefficient. In response, the city of Accra convened multiple national and international partners in an effort to improve recycling practices at the market. One outcome of these efforts is an e-waste recycling pilot facility set up by Blacksmith Institute and GreenAd Ghana. Workers learn how to disassemble items safely and cleanly so valuable parts can be sold at higher value.

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.

Solution

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. During Stage 2 of the project, from October 1, 2014-June 30, 2015, more machines were purchased and workers trained.

Outcome

 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.


Additionally, a technical lesson learned as that 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. 

Additional information

Photo by Peter Yeung from Bloomberg.com

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