Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ghana Is Rising, but So Are Its Dump-Yards of Cast-Off Appliances

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ghana Is Rising, but So Are Its Dump-Yards of Cast-Off Appliances

Article excerpt

What was once a park in Ghana's capital of Accra is now a blackened expanse, issuing acrid smoke from burning piles of plastic and metal. Industrial junk -heaps of old car doors and appliances - is scattered everywhere. A man walks past, carrying the carcass of a full-sized refrigerator on his head.

This is Agbogbloshie, an illegal dump where junked, cast-off appliances from around the world get turned into scrap metal.

Hundreds of shipping containers packed with used refrigerators, old computers, washing machines, and other appliances arrive in Ghana every month. Until recently, many of those appliances sold at a premium. But changing habits of consumers at a time when West Africa is experiencing growth means that more and more secondhand imports are being discarded from the retail market.

Instead, they are finding their way directly to the dump, exacerbating a waste problem that Ghana can't afford to fix right now.

Ghana once welcomed secondhand imports of everything from TVs to clothing because even locally-produced products were too expensive for average buyers. But that's rapidly changing: Ghana's economy grew by 8 percent in 2012, and manufacturers have taken notice of the country's growing base of consumers. Many are stepping up production on the continent.

Yet shipments of used appliances keep arriving because old appliances are considered hazardous waste, and are expensive to dispose of. Overseas firms seeking to rid themselves of old computers or car parts often donate or sell them, tossing them into a shadowy international supply chain that's hard to follow. In 2010, environmental activists at Agbogbloshie discovered in old computers several hard drives that appeared to belong to US defense contractors and school districts.

"There have been a lot of quotes [in the world press] about the West dumping its e-waste into Africa," says Tatiana Terekhova, an electronics waste expert at the United Nations. …

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