E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream globally and it’s growing at around 3-4% per year. According to the WEEE Forum (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum), in 2019 only 17,4% of global e-waste was collected and properly recycled, which means that 44,3 million metric tonnes, valued at US $57 billion, was either placed in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way, regardless the 71% of the world’s population being covered by e-waste legislation.
Despite the Basel Convention, which was issues in 1992 to reduce and prevent the trade of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries, there are still many open-air waste dumps in the world. Agbogbloshie, besides being a scrapyard, is one of the biggest ones. Appliances, phones, computers, appliances and much more are imported, mainly from European countries, as second-hand goods. Many of them have very short lifespan left, or are not working at all and they soon end up being dismantled and burned in Agbogbloshie, to extract raw materials like copper and aluminium.
Workers process e-waste on a daily basis for hours but the whole process is completely unregulated. The toxicity highly affects local communities working and living in the area, causing respiratory issues, headaches, lung diseases and, in the long term, it can also cause cancer, damage the nervous and the reproductive system. Lead levels in workers’ blood are far above the threshold limit value.
The food chain is seriously affected too: livestock is free to graze throughout the scrapyard, absorbing dioxin and heavy metal. The Odaw River crosses the burning areas, where e-waste and highly toxic substances end up into the river's waters and get to the Gulf of Guinea, just one kilometre far. As a result, the entire ecosystem, the health and safety, the food and fishing industry are massively impacted on a global level too, with food products reaching national and international markets.
Various attempt of rehabilitation have been made, but inconsistency, lack of political coordination, combined with the world’s increased consumption of electronic devices and a non-existent regulation of disposal management have caused all the attempts to be unsuccessful.