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Ghana: Making one of the earth's most polluted places safer

Wiebke Feuersenger
April 16, 2019

Thousands of waste pickers trawl for scrap metal at a huge, smoldering electronic waste dump in Ghana each day. In the process, they're damaging their health and the environment. One project is trying to change that.

Men standing on a rubbish dump, fires burn around them and black smoke fills the air
Image: picture alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

Ghana: Where Europe's e-waste goes

Project goal: Environmentally responsible disposal and recycling of electronic waste, improving protection for waste workers' health

Project duration: August 2016 - January 2020

Project partners: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI)

Budget: €5,000,000 (provided by the BMZ)

Standing among smoldering piles of rubbish, toxic smoke swirling around them, men pick through old mobile phones, refrigerators and laptops. The Old Fadama scrap yard, better known as Agbogbloshie, lies at the edge of the capital Accra. It's Africa's largest electronic waste dump — and one of the most polluted places on earth. E-waste from around the world goes there to die, or, in many cases to be given a new lease of life.

Some 5,000 scrap workers turn up at the dump every day to search for valuable metals such as aluminum and copper, which is contained in the waste. The metals are often melted on site, releasing toxic substances including lead and cadmium into the environment, contaminating water and soil and affecting the scrap collectors' health. Skin and respiratory diseases are common.

However, there is great potential. Ghana currently achieves collection rates of 95 percent of its e-waste and the informal sector generates employment and income for many; in particular unskilled youth from the country's north. German development agency GIZ and Ghana's environment ministry are working together to improve conditions for waste workers and to protect the environment in the process. 

A film by Wiebke Feuersenger

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