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The Garbage Mines Of Ghana

In the 1998 movie Soldier, Kurt Russell is unceremoniously dropped with the rest of the garbage on a planet reserved for use as a dump. Huge spacecraft deposit vast quantities of junk on regular runs.


(Space disposal units from Soldier [1998])

Russell ultimately joins forces with the people who are unlucky enough to be forced to make a living out of the material cast off by others.

On our planet, we don't send high-tech garbage to other worlds. We pick parts of our own planet, and send it there. Places like the Agbogbloshie canal, just west of downtown Accra, the capital of Ghana.


(The Agbogbloshie canal)

...the young men who work the dump pull and recycle the metals, particularly copper, out of old electronics. [M]ost of them are from northern Ghana, and form something of "an outcast class by themselves." They break down electronics with hammers and hands, mostly to pull out the metals inside of them, which they sell to local businesses.

You have to admire the resilience of these kids, who've come up with a way to make a living on the margins of society. But it's a tough, nasty business. If they need to separate rubber from copper, they burn it, so they inhale the fumes day after day. Many live in Agbogbloshie, so they're exposed to all the chemicals in the e-waste that moves through the place.

In his excellent 1990 novel Earth, David Brin writes about garbage mines, which are TwenCen California dump sites that are covered over, and later prized for their rare materials.

...it was inevitable that those landfills should draw the eyes of innovators, looking for ways to get rich.

Iron, aluminum, silica ... nickel, copper, zinc...

Claims were filed, mining plans presented and analyzed.... Excavation began between the ancient hills.

Into a past generation's waste, their desperate grandchildren dug for treasure.

The garbage rush was on.

There are parts of the world where people aren't waiting to open garbage mines; they're going after those raw materials now, for survival.

Via The Atlantic.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/25/2011)

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