Computer Disassembly in Agbogbloshie

Kyle took this photo right at the entrance to the big Ghana electronics scrapyard Agbogbloshie. Many photos from the scrapyard show disorganized piles of discarded electronics equipment. But the computer disassembly process at Agbogbloshie is more regimented than those photos suggest.

Worker at an electronics scrapyard in Agbogbloshie

The workers who process incoming computers all have their own little stalls. Right after computers are dropped off, this worker opens them up with a screwdriver and begins to pull out component parts—power supplies, circuit boards, cases, and so on. Circuit boards fetch the highest prices, power supplies a little less, and cases and plastics next to nothing.

Not far downstream, the computer disassembly process gets a bit more dangerous and involves more lighting equipment on fire. At this stage, though, disassembly at Agbogbloshie looks essentially the same as it does here in California: a screwdriver and bare hands. It’s not a bad job. Most of the workers at Agbogbloshie walk everywhere, but these guys earn more money than most and hence can afford to ride bicycles.

But why is a Ghana worker taking apart a discarded western computer tower while wearing discarded western clothing? (No, there’s no Rocky’s Pizza in Ghana—though Mama Mia’s is supposed to be pretty good.) Why does all our discarded stuff end up in Africa?