Artist Aims to Reduce E-Waste Harm in Ghana

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Works of art by Mago Nagasaka using e-waste on display in Tokyo in December

Agbogbloshie, a slum near Ghana’s capital, has been dubbed “one of the world’s largest electronic graveyards,” with piles of e-waste. A Japanese artist and companies are working to address the poor environment, including soil contamination, as well as improve the health and financial situation of local residents.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

I visited the site in February to learn more.

Agbogbloshie is about a 30-minute drive from Accra and is home to about 30,000 people. The area also has a large accumulation of various types of waste, including personal computers, TVs, and mobile terminals.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A pile of garbage in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, on Feb. 3, with children playing nearby

Taichi Kimura, 35, senior official of Mago Motors Japan, a company providing assistance in the area, showed me around.

In some parts of the area, I saw the waste being sold as used goods and parts. As we went deeper into the area, there were piles of garbage. Cows were scavenging for food on the piles, while children played nearby. Although there are residential sections in the area, the water flowing there was gray and muddy. Smoke was rising from a mountain of waste a short distance away, apparently caused by spontaneous combustion.

On the banks of the local river, young men were burning electronic components and copper wires one after another to recover the copper inside, which sells for high prices, by using heat to remove the resin and other substances on their surfaces.

“Dioxin and other toxic substances are produced [by the burning]. The soil is also contaminated,” Kimura told me.

A 23-year-old man doing the burning said: “I do it to send money to my parents. I have burns on my hands. My eyes hurt from the smoke. I want to do a different job.”

Tsuyoshi Fujita, a professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in environmental systems, says that used electronics may have been brought from developed countries to Africa, where regulations are less stringent.

Concerned about the problem, artist Mago Nagasaka, 39, has been creating works of art since 2017 using waste from the area, including keyboards, TVs, remotes and other items.

Nagasaka used the proceeds from the sale of his works to build a school in the area.

In 2021, a recycling plant was also built. Local people employed by the plant sort plastic waste by color and shred it to make building materials and furniture.

In 2022, Mago Motors was established in Japan and Ghana to run the project as a business.

Kimura said: “We want people to become interested in our activities through our artwork. We hope to provide safer jobs for local people with the funds raised from the sale of our products.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taichi Kimura talks about building materials made from shredded plastic at a recycling plant in Ghana.

Do Change, a start-up company in Kagawa Prefecture created through intrapreneurship by Shimizu Corp., aims to use a technique to separate copper from its coating made of resin and other materials by placing it in heated oil in the area.

President Akihiro Kishimoto, 49, said, “As we do not burn the waste, dioxin and other toxic substances are not produced. The purchase price of the recovered copper will also be higher.”

Kishimoto also said: “We hope to eliminate open burning in cooperation with Mago Motors.”

Itochu Corp. is running a program to recycle discarded mobile terminals in Africa in cooperation with a company in the Netherlands. Japanese telecommunications companies and manufacturers that participate in the program can publicize their consideration for the environment as discarded mobile terminals are recycled in proportion to their smartphone sales.

Fujita said: “Japan has the know-how in this field as it has made efforts in the safe separate collection and recycling of waste materials since the 1990s. Japan should be able to apply this know-how to waste disposal in developing countries. Ultimately, an international recycling and cost-sharing mechanism should be established.”