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Defence and Space

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Defence and Space

Accra's journey: From global wasteland to recycling hub

Accra's journey: From global wasteland to recycling hub

17.04.2024

Agbogblishe, one of the largest electronic dumping sites in the world, is situated in Accra, the capital of Ghana. In 2021, the government dismantled a portion of the market and electronic landfill sites. Today, scrap dealers and Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) are working to reorganise the sector towards the recycling plastic and metal. We use Pléiades and Pléiades Neo satellite imagery to track the slow evolution of one of the world's most polluted wastelands.

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From recycling center to polluted wasteland

The Agbogbloshie slum sits on a wetland at the mouth of the Odaw River. In the late 1990s, newly available electricity led to a surge in local demand for electrical and electronic devices. The influx of devices from around the world turned Accra's recycling center into the world's largest plastic dumpsite. The significant air pollution generated from the dump poses numerous health risks. Pollution also seeps into the Korle Lagoon ecosystem, affecting the health of the local fish.

Accras' journey organisation and pollution

Organisation and pollution

Despite its chaotic appearance, the dumpsite operates like clockwork. 1,500 independent entrepreneurs collect 30,000 tons of waste monthly. 5,000 scrap dealers handle their dismantling. All aim to recover copper by burning plastic outdoors without proper controls, releasing toxic substances like aluminum, lead, cadmium, or mercury into the atmosphere. The UN estimated the value of recoverable materials in electronic waste at $62 billion annually, surpassing Ghana's GDP in 2019.

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2021, a portion of the dump is cleared

In July 2021, the Ghanaian government dispatched law enforcement to clear the northern part of Agbogbloshie, catching workers and residents off guard. Workshops and homes within the dumpsite were dismantled, leaving a wasteland littered with plastic waste. Comparing 2019 Pléiades images with the post-eviction Pléiades Neo image shows ongoing scrap dealer activities in the southern part and the slum on the right bank.

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After the eviction

After the demolition, scrap dealers come together to create an association and appeal to the government for an alternative space to do business. They advocate for harnessing Agbogbloshie's potential as a reliable economic resource, based on the experience of the local labour market. They arrange to purchase land in Teacher Mante, 60 km north of Accra, with the aim of setting up a cleaner, more efficient and sustainable plastic processing site. Several hundred scrap dealers hope to come to and settle there.

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2024, dumpsite

In this Pléiades Neo image from 2024, the visible trash fires show the intensity of ongoing activity at the dump. The mountain of electronic waste can exceed 20 meters in height. The northern part of the site is now fenced off and left fallow. Electronic device dismantling workshops have spread to the left bank, blending with homes.

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2024, river pollution continues

To the south, signs of pollution are clearly visible in the river. A dam traps floating plastics, blocking parts of the river. Untreated waste piles up between the river and the highway. Coppery and brackish waters border the workshop-homes.

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