"Electronic waste has become a huge problem in Ghana”

April 28, 2014.  

Vincent Kyere, ZEF junior researcher, reports about his doctoral research on e-waste in Ghana.

Why did you choose the topicof electronic waste (e-waste) for your doctoral thesis?
I have observed the issue of electronic waste for quite some time and noticed that e-waste and related activities pose a huge challenge to the government, environmental managers and e-waste workers in Ghana. It also causes environmental and public health concerns for people and their livelihoods in Ghana. At the same time it is a source of income for many people. With support from my supervisor, Professor Klaus Greve of the University of Bonn, Geography institute, who was also passionate about the idea, we felt the urge to do something about it. With the research we hope to be able to contribute to policy and decision making in this field.

How did you start with your research?
The issue is complex since there is an interconnection between the global, regional and local levels. In addition, it is a special type of waste stream because it has both an inherent value but also represents hazard. The study tackles different aspects: International environmental regimes such as the EU WEEE directive, the Basel Convention (on the trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal) as well as the Bamako convention (containing a ban on importing hazardous wastes in and to Africa) which include e-wastes. I paid several field visits to some e-waste disposal sites where we conducted GIS Mapping and picked soil samples for laboratory analysis.

What other aspects do you conduct research on?
The focus of my research is on women and children who visit the sites and how their situation can be improved. They are affected most and hardly protected. The largest e-waste dumping ground in West Africa is probably Agbogbloshie near Accra, Ghana’s capital. I worked there and also at some other smaller sites in Ghana. I collected samples of soil and analyzed them in a laboratory. The business of e-waste in Ghana is extensively done by uncontrolled informal recyclers. The study therefore also looks into options with which the informal sector can be integrated into a more formalized industry. Finally, I explore how GIS can be integrated in decision making processes and involved in the value chain cycle of e-waste management in Ghana.

Why is e-waste such a problem in Africa and especially in Ghana, since most of the equipment coming from abroad is transferred as recycling materials?
Around 20% of second hand electronic materials brought from developed countries into countries like Ghana consist of actual waste which cannot be reused. Since the local scrap dealers use crude and rudimental methods (including hammering, chiseling, etc.), critical or valuable metals are lost. During the process hazardous substances are released in the environment, which causes serious health problems.

On the basis of your research conducted so far have you come to any conclusions or recommendations?
The research found that the amount of lead and cadmium and other heavy metals in the soil is several times higher than levels found in natural soil. There is definitely a need to ensure that international legislation on illegal shipment of and trade in hazardous waste (including electronic waste) is fully complied with and monitoring mechanisms strengthened. Moreover, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMS) and Brand Owners should be encouraged to involve in developing systems to solve the e-waste problem in Africa. National governments in Africa really have to catch up with legislations and their implementation in order to protect their citizens. There are some NGOs, also German-Ghanaian cooperation projects active in the field, but this is clearly not enough.

Vincent Kyere is a junior researcher in ZEF’s Department of Ecology and Natural Resources Management. His doctoral research is funded by KAAD and ZEF

The interview was conducted by Alma van der Veen


Download the 'Research in Brief' by Kyere on e-waste:


Dr. Vincent Nartey Kyere