6 May 2023
Have you ever wondered what life at an e-waste landfill looks like?
Electronic waste is a subject widely discussed in the context of climate change – but what often escapes the public narrative is the detrimental effect it has on human health.
Have a look at a short fictional piece depicting the reality of people working in Ghana's Agbogbloshie – one of the world's larges e-waste dump sites.
My name is Abdrahaman. I am 34 years old, one of the oldest workers at the Agbogbloshie electronics dump site on the outskirts of Accra.Most of the men and women working alongside me are in their teens and early twenties - only a few of them will make it to 35.
I moved to Accra 2 years ago from Tamale, a small village in the North of Ghana. I came here looking for a job. I used to be a football player for a local team - but my family didn’t approve of my profession; there wasn’t much money from it. Working at Agbogbloshie is what I make of it - the more materials I manage to gather, the more money I can send back home. Still, it’s not much. Most days I only make enough to buy food that gets me through the day.
Everyday here looks almost the same: I arrive at the dump site before the sun pokes up on the horizon. The air is filled with heavy, acidic smoke coming from the burning mounds of trash. Heaps of electronic waste spread in front of me as far as the eye can see. Computers, televisions, phones, washing machines, air conditioners - all of them need to be torn apart, smashed or burned, to get to the valuable parts. Slowly, the sun rises, making the discarded metal parts almost impossible to touch. Working in the full heat is relentless - my entire body, and the bodies of people working around me, are drenched in sweat. Some of them pass out from dehydration and exhaustion. Nobody here cares to take breaks - what counts is how much revivable material you can scavenge to sell later.
It’s not long before the inhaled fumes make my head throb with debilitating pain. The toxic air makes it hard to breathe. I used to be strong - playing football gave me stamina. Running on the pitch for hours on end was as easy as walking. Now, spending my days crouched over old electronics, my body’s grown weak. I had a friend working here, Ibrahim. His company brought me solace - until one day, he didn’t show up at the waste site. One month later, he died from lung cancer.
Agbogbloshie has taken a toll on everyone working here. Burns, back aches, open wounds and even stomach ulcers - some of the most common ailments here, although the list could go on and on. Despite it all, I know that tomorrow I’m going to see all these faces here again - grimacing with fatigue and weariness. I know they’re going to come back - because as long as the huge container ships filled with new waste arrive at the shores of Accra, there’s always going to be more parts to retrieve, more monitors to smash, more trash to burn. So I know that tomorrow, all these people will come here, hoping to earn whatever money they can. And so will I.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, striving to bring awareness to the substantial danger that illegal e-waste dump sites like Agbogbloshie bring to human health. It was inspired by an article published in @The Guardian, which you can access here:
Image Copyright: The Guardian, accessible at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/agbogbloshie-worlds-largest-e-waste-dump-in-picture