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Issue 46
, 2013
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Ghana: Home for Some, E-Waste Dump for the World

Source: allAfrica, Date: , 2014

The e-waste dump Agbogbloshie exemplifies the downside of globalization: It's the bitter end of a supply chain where children, instead of going to school, wander barefoot gathering bits of salvaged metal for pennies.

Black, poisonous smoke darkens the sky above Agbogbloshie, the final destination for electronic waste shipped from all over the globe. Some 50,000 people, including many children, live here - at one of the world's largest e-waste dumping grounds.

Literally tons of old electronics burn in countless open fires, making my skin burn and itch as I walk through the grounds. There's a metallic taste in my mouth, and my head throbs. Meter-high, dazzling, green flames release huge wafts of black, poisonous fumes. It's like an apocalyptic painting come to life.

People burn the cables and circuit boards to get the poor man's gold within: copper, aluminium, lead - valued raw materials for industry.

Sacrificing their health

Badugu is 25 years old. He can't say how long he's been getting copper coils and metal plates out of old radios. He only knows that he has no choice - this is his livelihood."I want money, that's why I come do this work," he says. "Today is very bad," he added. He describes himself as having a "problem inside" due to all the toxic smoke.

Next to Badugu, several children are busy breaking apart old televisions. Some kids drag speaker magnets strung on cords behind them, wandering the grounds for hours so bits of metal stick to the magnets. They then sell their catch - bits of circuit board, screws, aluminium, copper - to metal traders next door. Their income amounts to just a few euro cents.

Wearing plastic sandals and a torn T-shirt, Peter stands on a mountain of glass shards, old freezers, copy machines and car batteries; at his feet, pink ink from printer cartridges coat the black ground. He shows me his arms and legs, which are covered in cuts from broken glass and sharp slivers of metal."I'm sick in my head," he says, describing his constant headaches. Many children here have breathing problems, and cough up blood. Some, Peter says, also have problems with their eyes. His siblings work here as well. Peter's mother sells sweets on the street. He doesn't know where his father is."I want to get money, take my money and go to school. That's why I am here," Peter says forcefully.

E-waste from Europe

The grounds are full of heavy metals from televisions and computers. Toxic brominated flame retardants, which inhibit the ignition of combustible organic materials, are all around.

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