From Silicon Valley to Agbogbloshie: The Impact of Our E-Waste

Silicon Valley. The “Tech Mecca”. Home to America’s first trillion-dollar company, Apple.

It is, as society sees it, the global epicentre of the tech industry. Nestled in the southern part of California’s San Francisco Bay Area, “Silicon Valley” first gained traction in the 1970s for its manufacturing of silicon transistors, a type of semiconductor used in almost all electronic devices to alter the flow of electrical current.

Aerial view of Apple Park in Cupertino, California. (SpVVK)

With easy access to semiconductors and low-risk government funding, Silicon Valley became the breeding ground for a congeries of household giants like Google, Microsoft, and Adobe. Silicon Valley stands as a testament to human technological innovation and progress, launching its success from the 1970s to today.

Yet, beneath the glory of rapid technological growth lies a hidden crisis that lurks in the shadows of the digital age—electronic waste, or e-waste.

The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. Only 20% of this is formally recycled."

 

What is E-Waste?

E-waste is unwanted electronic products that are discarded. Social media and advertising have revolutionised consumer behaviour; the allure of new technology has become almost irresistible, prompting a perpetual cycle of upgrades and purchases. From the Apple Vision Pro to the folding Samsung phones, society thrives on the thrill of constant innovation and discoveries. However, when the novelty of that once ‘cutting-edge’ technology expires, these gadgets will likely end up in the landfills of developing countries.

 

From the Valley to Agbogbloshie

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Such is the story of Agbogbloshie. In an attempt to bridge the digital divide, Ghana eagerly began accepting importations of second-hand TVs and laptops from the Western world. Little did they know that over 75% of these electronics would be rendered useless, and this seemingly benevolent act would give rise to one of Ghana’s most significant environmental challenges to date.

Rashida travelled down from North Ghana to sell water to scrappers in Agbogbloshie. (Courtesy of Carolina Rapezzi)

Agbogbloshie, a name unfamiliar to most, was once a shelter for refugees in the 1980s but is now the world’s largest e-waste dumpsite. Amongst the mountains of trash, over 40,000 persevering Ghanaians have established a community. Here, the people call the wasteland area “Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the five ancient cities in the Book of Genesis that were burned down and destroyed for uncivilization and corruption. The term paints a vivid picture of the landscape of Agbogbloshie today, depicting the environmental impact wrought by the world’s discarded devices.

The burning of cables and other electronic parts to salvage valuable metals (Courtesy of Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images).

Every morning, a poignant routine unfolds at Agbogbloshie. Ghanaians scour through piles of cables and scrapped devices, forced by financial insecurity to secure their daily income in this manner. During this laborious process, workers inhale toxic fumes and particulate matter, predisposing them to a lifelong risk of respiratory problems, skin disorders, and gastric diseases.

To make matters worse, these hazardous chemicals permeate the environment, contaminating the land, water, air, and even the food chain. Researchers from IPEN and Basel Action Network (BAN) uncovered alarming findings, revealing that a single egg from a free-range chicken in Agbogbloshie exceeded the European Food Safety Authority’s tolerable daily intake for chlorinated dioxins by 220-fold, a highly toxic pollutant linked to cancer mortality.

 

One man’s trash is now another man’s livelihood.

 

Dealing with this adversity is the harsh reality of job scarcity in Ghana. Unfortunately, many individuals have little to no choice but to undertake the hazardous task of sifting through the Western world’s e-waste to provide for their families. Without money to afford tools and protective gear, they must persist with the perilous work, inheriting the health risks that come with it. The trade-off is stark—thousands of Ghanaians are earning a living while paying the price with their lives. 

The reality for many of those living and working in Agbogbloshie should serve as a sobering reality check for electronic manufacturers in the Western world. Ultimately, innovation and progress should not come at the expense of human and environmental health.

Although Agbogbloshie is the largest e-waste dump, it is not alone. China, along with numerous other developing countries, also grapples with the repercussions of discarded electronics. It is our collective responsibility to create a future where the advancement of technology can coexist with compassion and where no community is left with the weight of the world’s discarded electronics. 

 

Tackling E-Waste

At Component Sense, we address e-waste at its roots. During visits to global electronic manufacturers, our CEO, Kenny McGee, observed alarming volumes of discarded excess and obsolete (E&O) inventory. Kenny founded Component Sense in 2001 to tackle the problem of E&O components in the electronics industry. Component Sense acts as an intermediary and acquires brand-new excess stock that would otherwise be disposed of. We then redistribute this E&O inventory to our customers for manufacturing. Through our zero-waste approach, we are dedicated to minimising the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills. 

 

In addition to Component Sense’s business approach, we are committed to environmental stewardship by: 

  • Educating the electronics industry about e-waste to promote a more sustainable supply chain
  • Partnering with One Tree Planted to plant two trees for every order
  • Partnering with environmentally friendly shipping companies and offsetting all our carbon emissions

    Our collaboration with DSV, a transport and logistics company, grew from concerns regarding our CO₂ emissions from transporting stock back and forth between countries. Through this partnership, we have reduced our emissions by locally storing our E&O parts. Click the button below to explore our partnership with DSV, which allows us to redistribute excess electronic stock from anywhere in the world: 

 

Moreover, our ambitions extend further. We aspire to grow our business to a level which allows us to tackle the existing e-waste problem. In the future, we plan to physically clean up e-waste in countries such as Ghana. Our mission and goal are not only to enhance environmental sustainability but also to create positive socio-economic change. By undertaking this clean-up effort, we seek to create employment opportunities, invest in educational facilities, and ultimately contribute positively to local communities.

Join us on this journey towards a sustainable future.

 

Want to learn more about how we are leading electronic manufacturers towards zero-waste?