Portraits of e-waste pickers in Ghana


German photographer Kevin McElvaney shot portraits of the itinerant pickers who work on Agbogbloshie, the toxic e-waste dump outside of Accra, Ghana.

Located in the city of Accra, Agbogbloshie is known by locals as Sodom and Gomorrah for its hellish conditions and blackened ground that resembles an open sore. The scavengers, typically between 7 and 25, sift through the refuse, setting fire to piles of rubbish to remove the rubber and plastic concealing the more valuable materials within. McElvaney uses the apocalyptic setting as a backdrop for remarkably intimate portraits of the people eking out a living from discarded electronics. “I wanted to make the people the subject, not the fires,” he says.

Many of the workers are from northern Ghana or neighboring countries like Ivory Coast. They’re poor, and often see Agbogbloshie as a way to make a quick buck and move on. They work with bare hands, often in flip-flops, breathing in toxic fumes to earn an average of $2.50 a day. Though most plan to only work for a few weeks, many soon suffer from breathing problems, insomnia, nausea and crushing headaches. Cancer and other illnesses are rumored to kill many e-waste workers by their 20s. Some ease their pain with drugs, but must work the fields to buy them. “It’s a vicious cycle,” McElvaney says.

Inside the Hellscape Where Our Computers Go to Die [Jakob Schiller/Wired]

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