What can an electronics scrapyard in Ghana teach us about innovation?



You may have seen the horrific pictures.

Boys burning e-waste like circuit boards to extract copper.

Inhaling dangerous fumes which shorten their lives.

With harmful chemicals seeping into groundwater.

Often the images you may have seen have come from electronic scrapyards like Agbogbloshie, a community in Accra, Ghana.

But what you don’t often see is the positive aspects of the entrepreneurial spirit of the community that grows around scrapyards like that.

In the TED video above, Designer DK Osseo-Asare wondered: What would happen if we connected these self-taught techies with students and young professionals in STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math)?

The result: a growing maker community where people engage in peer-to-peer, hands-on education, motivated by what they want to create. Learn more about how this African makerspace is pioneering a grassroots circular economy.

What becomes immediately clear is the benefits of urban mining.

Urban mining is the process of reclaiming raw materials from spent products, buildings and waste

Case in point: There is more gold, silver, platinum and palladium which can be mined from a ton of electronic waste than from a ton of pure ore from a traditional mine.

Eventually, once our ability to recycle more synthetic materials (like plastics) improves, we may one day reach a point where traditional mining will be overtaken by urban mining, and the reuse of scrap into new raw materials forms a perfectly closed supply chain.

A truly circular economy.

As you can see, while some aspects of the scrapyard may be negative, there are enterprising and innovative people there as well, solving real problems and seeing valuable resources where others see only waste.

I guess it is true what they say: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.


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