Germany commits €25m to tackle environmental impact of electronic waste

Germany and Ghana have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the field of electronic waste management and recycling.

Seeing the environment and especially the recycling of electronic devices mostly produced outside of Ghana as a shared responsibility, the Federal government of Germany decided to commit €25,000,000.

This is to alleviate the environmental impact of electronic waste in the country and improve the working conditions of people in the sector.

The “Hazardous and Electronic Waste Law” passed in 2016 sets the legal framework for the German-Ghanaian engagement.

A statement from the German Embassy in Ghana said, “Germany wishes to use the opportunity to congratulate Ghana on passing this ground-breaking law, which translates the Basel convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal into national law.”

The statement noted that Germany will commit €5,000,000 for a Technical Cooperation program through the implementing agency GIZ, which will focus on improving the working conditions of workers along the electronic waste value chain.

The move will support the private sector engagement in recycling industries and also develop the framework conditions to implement the law.

“Furthermore, €20,000,000 (through the KfW Development bank) will be dedicated to the establishment of an incentive mechanism for sound collection and recycling of e-waste as well as for a collection centre of the Government of Ghana.

“Both elements of the programme are intended to prepare the establishment of the Ghanaian recycling fund as stipulated in the E-Waste-Law,” the statement added.

The commitment for the e-waste collection and recycling mechanism will be announced with the official handing-over of a Note Verbal to the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation on March 13.

The Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, as well as the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ghana, Christoph Retzlaff, will be the keynote speakers at the event.



Samsung and Greenpeace: what you need to know about e-waste

Discarded mobile phones

Greenpeace claims Samsung has 4.3m smartphones to dispose of after its Galaxy Note 7 recall. What’s the responsible way to recycle them?


At the smartphone world’s annual shindig in Barcelona, there are some things the tech giants have been trying to get people talking about – the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, BlackBerry’s new fingerprint scanner, Samsung’s virtual reality headset.

But there’s another, less glamorous story that they haven’t been so keen to promote. And that concerns the fate of their gadgets when consumers have finished with them.

On Sunday, Greenpeace interrupted a Samsung press conference to protest the company’s failure to produce a recycling plan for the defective Galaxy Note 7, recalled last year due to fire risk. The campaign group claims Samsung has 4.3m handsets to get rid of.

A Samsung spokesperson has since said the company is working “to ensure a responsible disposal plan” for its defunct phones, and prioritising safety and environment. But if the piled up Galaxy Note 7s go the same way as the rest of our old smartphones, computers and tablets, where might they end up?

Sending e-waste offshore

Since the start of 2017, we have thrown out more than 6.4m tonnes of electronic goods, according to The World Counts, a website keeping a live tally of global e-waste. If past patterns are any judge, not much of this will get properly recycled: less than a sixth of the e-waste discarded around the world in 2014 was dealt with in this way, says the UN.

Even in developed countries with advanced infrastructure, electronics recycling rates are low. The US recycled just 29% (pdf) of the 3.4m tonnes of e-waste it produced in 2012, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, while the rest was sent to landfill or incinerated.

“Our recycling rates for electronics are abysmal,” says Jim Puckett, executive director and founder of the Basel Action Network (BAN), an NGO. He estimates that 5% of metals used in electronics are recycled, at most.

When products are handed over for recycling, a portion end up in informal recycling hotspots in developing countries, such as Accra in Ghana or parts of southern China, where they are broken down in an uncontrolled environment, Puckett explains. UN figures suggest up to 90% of the world’s e-waste is illegally dumped.

“We sweep everything to developing countries where they have the least infrastructure and efficient recycling,” says Puckett.

In a recent experiment, BAN placed GPS trackers on 205 old printers and monitors to see what happened to them. Of the devices handed over for recycling, 40% were sent offshore, mostly to Asia. BAN’s team followed 37 of them to Hong Kong, where it found workers breaking down electronics by hand in informal junkyards.

E-waste recycler in China.
An e-waste recycler in Guangdong China heats plastic to determine the material according to smell. Photograph: Kai Loeffelbein/laif

This kind of unregulated processing of e-waste carries severe consequences for environment and human health, including air pollution when circuit boards are heated to access the metals, soil pollution as chemicals seep into the earth, and water pollution as toxic materials get into groundwater and other supplies.

Lost value

Recycling failures also lead to a waste of precious materials, like gold, copper and platinum. This not only means that fresh supplies are mined unnecessarily, but also that money is wasted through missed recycling opportunities. Potential revenues from e-waste recycling in the European market in 2014 were as high as 2bn euros, estimates Sheffield University’s centre for energy, environment and sustainability.

Companies including Microsoft and Dell have sought to address their e-waste footprint by partnering with third-party organisations like Goodwill, which sells or recycles donated electronics. Last year Apple unveiled a recycling robot called Liam, who it says can take apart an iPhone in 11 seconds.

More recent ideas have included a mobile phone offset scheme, launched on Tuesday by recycling company Sims Recycling Solutions and Dutch social enterprise Closing the Loop. They promise to remove one phone from an e-waste dump for every phone used by the scheme’s customers, including ING Bank.

Puckett believes more systemic change is needed, however. When it comes to tackling the sheer quantity of discarded electronics, he says progress will only come via market-based incentives for longer-lasting electronics. A system where electronics are leased out rather than bought and sold, for example, would incentivise companies to make products last as long as possible, he says.



New report suggests Hong Kong takes over from Ghana as new global e-waste dumping ground

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


A new report by the Basel Action Network (BAN) published last year says Hong Kong is becoming the new dumping ground for electronics waste (e-waste) from the US.

The report titled ‘Scam recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US recyclers’ says up to 20 per cent of all US e-waste is likely being dumped in Hong Kong.

Not long ago, Ghana was described as the world’s e-waste dumping ground, and the Agbogbloshie grounds in Accra, where e-waste was being crudely recycled was labeled the world’s most polluted area.

As recently as June 2016, Ghana was cited as one of the top destinations for the trafficking of illegal hazardous wastes in West Africa in a rapid response assessment of the UN Environmental Programme and INTERPOL.

In the same month, that same year, Ghana passed the E-waste law to deal with the matter.

But the BAN study made reference to an earlier study, e-Trash Transparency Project which found that the illegal exports of e-waste to developing countries has reached alarming proportions.

According to BAN it chose three waste types in this study — LCD monitors with mercury backlights, CRT monitors, and printers, and installed trackers on these items, that are considered hazardous waste under international law.

“To date, the study has witnessed 34 per cent of the 205 tracker deployments move off­shore, with 31 per cent of the total going to devel­oping countries. Looking at those that were exported only, 93 per cent of the exports went to developing countries. 87 per cent have gone to Asia, 3 per cent to Africa, 1 per cent to the Middle East, 1 per cent to Latin America and Caribbean region. 7 per cent moved to the developed countries of Mexico and Canada,” it said.

The study also found that of the 152 trackers delivered directly to recyclers, which is the primary subject of the study, 40 per cent were exported — significantly higher than the 15 per cent export rate for the 53 trackers delivered to charities or retailers.

“In the course of the entire pathways (chains) of the 205 tracker movements, the trackers passed through the hands of 168 different identifiable US recyclers. Of these companies delivered to or revealed, over 45 per cent were part of a movement that went offshore (export chain),” the study pointed out.

It further noted that LCDs were exported at the highest rate of the three types of equipment deployed: 53 per cent of LCDs studied were exported, 30 per cent of printers, and 18 per cent of CRTs. LCDs contain­ing mercury lamps, as exclusively deployed in this study, are likely the most toxic of the three.

The study discovered that while there are strict rules on the exportation and importation of e-waste from the US, most of the companies involved flouted the law.

BAN found that many of the countries that were importing the e-waste are among 150 countries prohibited from importing Basel listed hazardous wastes from the US.

“Once the waste has been exported from the US, it is considered “illegal traffic” and is a criminal act for those in Basel Parties to import it,” it indicated.

BAN referred to one rule in the US that requires companies to pre-notify the US Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) if they wish to export some CRTs (CRT Rule).

“However, none of the companies found in this study to be involved in a chain of export for CRTs are listed on the EPA website as having provided the necessary notification; this means those CRT ship­ments are likely to violate US law,” it said.

According to BAN, it discovered during the study that, by far, most of the exportation went to Hong Kong’s New Territories area with a distant second destination being mainland China.

“These new findings, based on tracking data, have revealed a much different picture than our findings over the past decade where it was observed that the vast majority of e-waste from North America went to mainland China, and most of that to Guiyu, a township and region in Guangdong Province,” it said, adding that, this previous data was the subject of an earlier report it published in 2002.

BAN as a result of the latest findings of its study acknowledged a dramatic geographic shift, which it says is indicative of China’s recently escalated effort to enforce their long-standing e-waste import ban.

But then, ironically, it appears that the Hong Kong (SAR), usually thought of as one of the most technologically and economically advanced areas of China, has not enforced the Chinese import ban as diligently as mainland China has and appears to have in fact become a new pollution haven, the report said.

“Hong Kong’s New Terrritories region near the mainland border now appears to be a new “ground zero” for e-waste processing,” the study concluded.



Creating more value from e-waste plastics in Ghana



Accra, 9 February 2017: A hands-on training on e-waste plastics marks a starting point for new partnerships to work towards a better management of e-waste plastics in Ghana. The workshop aimed at improving technical skills to identify different waste plastic types, to recycle them and to find possible new applications. The workshop was jointly organized by the Ghana National Cleaner Production Centre, Empa, Oeko-Institut, the World Resources Forum, and the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency. The event met high interest by e-waste recyclers, plastic-using companies, NGOs and various other stakeholders.

Plastics constitute an important part of e-waste – around 20% by mass on average. Their recycling, while technically possible in most cases, requires specific know-how, appropriate machinery and typically generates low profit margins. As a result, e-waste plastics are generally disregarded as a non-valuable fraction, that “gets in the way” of recovering the metal fractions. In countries with a largely informal e-waste recycling economy, such plastics are usually dumped or burnt in the open. The open burning of cables to extract copper and aluminium wires provides an emblematic example of such practices, and of their potential harmfulness. Open cable burning indeed releases dioxins and furans, as well as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and various heavy metals. The dumping and/or open burning of plastics containing brominated flame retardants, which include internationally banned persistent organic pollutants (POPs), provides another example of the public health and environmental hazards posed by improper management of e-waste plastics.


The training was divided into two sessions: a hands-on one, focussing on simple polymer identification methods, followed by a more theoretical session presenting the basic principles of plastic recycling and potential applications for recycled e-waste plastics. After these sessions, a discussion between workshop presenters and participants was initiated, aiming at identifying potential linkages between e-waste plastic producers and plastic-using companies.

The identification and segregation of plastic types, subject of the first session, is often necessary to produce high-quality recyclates as most polymer types are incompatible with each other. While automated sorting systems are used for that purpose in countries with high labour costs, manual sorting techniques can get a long way in places where labour is cheap and plentiful, such as Ghana. Combining identification techniques provided by the Swiss Plastic Education and Training Centre (KATZ) and methods observed in Indian informal plastic recycling facilities, workshop participants were taught simple tests to recognize and sort the main types of plastic found in e-waste. The group was divided into 5 teams that were each given a sorting tool-kit, plastic flakes of different types, and a 4-page handout containing necessary information to identify plastic types. This practical session was met with high interest, and by the end of the session most participants were able to correctly identify the various plastic types.

The second session introduced basic processing steps of plastic recycling, such as sorting, shredding, washing, pelletizing and injection moulding, as well as basic principles including the segregation and proper disposal of hazardous fractions (such as brominated plastics), and the avoidance of food-contact applications. Furthermore, possible applications for recycled e-waste plastics were presented, including both products that are already produced domestically (such as crates, pallets, waste pipes and waste containers) and products known to be common applications for e-waste plastics but lacking domestic production in Ghana (such as printer or vacuum cleaner housings, car bumpers, wheel covers and coat hangers). For this latter category of products, scrap exports could be envisaged.

In the final discussion, participants were invited to share their experiences and challenges with e-waste plastics. Most attending e-waste recyclers indicated struggling to find downstream markets for their plastic fractions, with no better option than stockpiling them at the moment. Besides taking up valuable space, growing piles of plastic also represent a significant fire hazard. Plastic-using companies reported having little or no experience with e-waste plastics, but several showed interest in conducting recycling trials with such material. In some cases, discussions were particularly fruitful and led to agreements between e-waste recyclers and plastic companies to collaborate in the future. SRI plastic activities in Ghana will further encourage and support such collaborations until the end of 2017.

Unused waste plastic pile in Agbogbloshie, Accra
Unused waste plastic pile in Agbogbloshie, Accra
Shredded waste plastics stored at a recycler in Accra
Shredded waste plastics stored at a recycler in Accra


The Continent That Contributes The Most To E-Waste Is …

By: Angus Chen

While the world becomes more wired through laptops, tablets and mobile phones, a mountain of electronic waste — or e-waste — is also growing. The greatest contributor to that stock of e-waste is Asia, according to a report published last week from United Nations University.

The report, which studied 12 East and Southeast Asian countries, says the amount of electronic waste in Asia has risen 63 percent in the last five years. A significant proportion of that waste is likely helping to grow an international black market for recycling, says Ruediger Kuehr, the lead author on the report and head of the Sustainable Cycles program at the United Nations University.

Asia is the highest overall producer, though the per capita production of e-waste is highest in the United States, Europe and Oceania. The Americas produced about 26 pounds per inhabitant in 2014. By comparison, Asia produced 8.1 pounds per inhabitant and Africa 3.74 pounds.

The expanding Asian middle class is driving e-waste, as is a growing electronics market filled with new gadgets, says Ahsan Shamim, an environmental scientist at the Metropolitan State University of Denver who was not involved with the report. “There is a growing middle class in all those [Asian] countries,” he says. “You can see it particularly in mobile phones. The cellphone has grown tremendously in an uncontrollable way.”

And new electronic devices, which the report classifies as anything with a cord or a battery, expire far quicker than their predecessors. Gadgets just don’t last as long as they used to, as a German environmental agency report found — and many people upgrade within a year or two.

By far, the greatest increase in annual e-waste has been from China, which has seen about a 100-percent rise in the last five years to 6.681 million metric tons.

Some of the e-waste in Asia, particularly in China and Hong Kong, is still being illegally shipped in from around the world, says Kuehr. He says research he conducted found these imports account for “only about 10 to 20 percent” of the total e-waste. But an estimate by MIT showed imports from North American to be more like 20 to 30 percent of e-waste, according to Kuehr.

Kuehr estimates Asia generates about 16 million metric tons of e-waste each year, including imports from elsewhere. (The U.S. produces about 10 million.)

All these defunct electronics may be feeding a vast, shadowy recycling market. Certain electronic goods like printed circuit boards contain valuable metals like gold and copper. Large and costly industrial processes can recover precious metals with relatively little damage to human health and the environment, but most countries don’t have the infrastructure to do that. “The [safe] treatment of these hazardous components is limited to only a handful of sites on the globe. These sites are not in the developing world,” Kuehr says.

In the U.S., consumers can take their e-waste to appropriate drop spots. A collection company or municipality then takes it to a facility that will strip everything for parts. Items containing precious metals like circuit boards are shipped to special facilities that can strip gold, palladium and other metals on an industrial scale and with safety precautions.

But people across East and Southeast Asia are extracting those metals as well, with a disregard for formal health and environmental safety procedures.

“What they are doing is very crude methods, mostly,” Kuehr says. “They are taking the [circuit boards] and bathing them in an acid bath to get gold or other precious metals and releasing the acid into the water or environment.”

Another common procedure is to collect cables and burn the plastic casing away on an open flame to collect copper, Kuehr says. “Many people doing this realize [the danger],” he says. “They have red eyes, headaches, kidney issues, etc. But they are making their living out of it.”

Toxins released from this type of processing can cause cancer — and brain, kidney, lung and liver damage. “It turns into this catastrophic thing,” Shamim says.

Some of these operations appear to be small-scale recyclers or what Kuehr calls “backyard operations.”

Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network, a watchdog organization focusing on hazardous waste, says he recently came across one in Indonesia.

“I did see a very dirty operation outside of Jakarta. Someone was inside their apartment cooking circuitry and extracting gold,” he says. “They were breathing this stuff in a closed environment. You go in and immediately get a headache.”

Bigger hubs for illegal e-waste processing exist in Hong Kong, Puckett says. His organization has tracked hundreds of electronics across the globe to unregulated plants in Hong Kong and the New Territories of Hong Kong.

But this could change if Hong Kong and mainland China institute stricter regulations on electronics recycling, Puckett and Shamim say.

These larger recycling operations were initially propped up by shipments from places like the EU and the United States — in violation of U.N. conventions for trading hazardous materials, says Puckett.

And now a sizable stream of e-waste is coming in locally.

“That informal sector will be happy to gobble up the domestic waste,” Puckett says. And there are no signs that the amount of e-waste or the unregulated market for e-waste recycling is abating any time soon.

Indeed, the search is on for “countries — like Bangladesh, like Myanmar, like Indonesia — where they have the cheapest labor and [weak] regulations,” Shamim says.



Ghana to save $200m from e-waste recycling plant


Ghana will be saving about $200 million it spends annually on containing the health impacts of electronic waste disposal, with the construction of an e-waste recycling plant in Accra.

The facility, among others, seeks to restore the once serene ecological zone of Agbogbloshie within the Greater Accra region.

“From my economic point of view, we will be saving the country on the average about 300 million dollars by establishing this facility which now going to engage in a comprehensive value chain recycling for Ghanaians. The benefits I must say are unquantifiable,” the Project Consultant, Francis Gavor stated.

Francis Gavor also, who is also the Business Development Manager for SGS West Africa, explained that the project will change the phase of e-waste management in Ghana.

He made the remarks at the sod cutting ceremony for the construction of the Agbogbloshie e-waste recycling plant.

Agbogbloshie, presently the home to most electronic scrap dealers and some migrants into the nation’s capital, is considered one of the top ten contributors of toxic waste across the globe.

In addition, residents and scavengers of the electronic items are subject to harmful substances which affect the quality of life.

The project involves a joint collaboration between the Ministry of Environment, Science Technology and Innovation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The first phase of the project which commences by the end of this year is valued at $30 million.

Upon completion, the project is also expected to create jobs for about 400,000 people in the entire value chain.

Moreover, existing workers of the Agbogbloshie scrap yard and others will undergo in-depth training to enable them undertake proper recycling.

Ghana forms part of countries contributing to the over 40 million tonnes electronic and electronic waste produced worldwide.

Several studies have also alluded to the need for governments to re-strategize to deal with the adverse health impacts associated with the menace of electronic waste.



Government to construct $30m e-waste facility at Agbogbloshie


The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency are set to commission the construction of a state-of-the-art e-waste recycling facility at Agbogbloshie in the Greater Accra Region.

Estimated at $30 million for the first phase, the facility is expected to recycle all electrical and electronic waste to final products in an environmentally sound manner, relieving the people of Accra and its environs, specifically Agbogbloshie community, of toxic pollutants generated from the burning of e-waste.

According to Project Consultant, Francis Bullen Gavor, it is unfortunate that one of Agbogbloshie has in recent times been cited among the top ten most polluted sites in the world biggest e-waste dumps in Africa.

“It is therefore important to find innovative ways to manage the e-waste generated in our various communities. With this new facility, harmful elements associated with waste products will be captured and processed safely, thereby preserving critical ecological components,” he said.

Touching on additional benefits, Mr. Gavor indicated that the facility together with its entire value chain is expected to generate over 400,000 jobs for Ghanaians.

“The facility will hire existing Workers of the Agbogbloshie Scrap Yard and others who will undergo in-depth retraining to enable them undertake proper recycling”.

When fully implemented, it will ensure the value-chain management of e-waste and electrical equipment in an environmentally sound manner thus turning the current challenges of E-waste management in the country into green business opportunities for the people of Ghana.