Plastic Micro-factories in Agbogbloshie

Pellet made by extrusion process
Plastic pellets made by extrusion process

Plastic waste in Ghana has become a major social and ecological problem, due to the adverse effects of plastic pollution on both human health and the environment. Especially during periods of flooding, plastic waste chokes the drainage systems of most Ghanaian cities.  The need for initiatives to improve sanitation in our community is of great importance. Of the many local waste management companies, only few practice segregation and recycling of waste — and not yet at scale. In the area of plastics recycling, Blowplast recycling is one of the formal organizations which recycles water sachet and black bags in large volumes. What a lot of people do not realize is that plastics recycling in Agbogbloshie is a major activity within the informal sector recycling industry.

Because we are current developing a plastics micro-factory as part of the AMP toolset (one of first prototypes is a mini-kiln for moulding plastic tiles), we continue to work with Agbogbloshie plastics recyclers in order to better understand how the process works now and how it can be improved.

One of the more advanced industrial setups we have come across is located on Abosey Okai Road. Stages in the process flow include sorting, shredding and pelletizing. This micro-factory engages more then 20 youths in Agbogbloshie in full-time employment! The sorted plastics are ground using a milling machine (see picture below) which is connected to a water bath. Shredded plastics are then collected and dried. Finally, the shredded high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are pelletized using an extrusion machine. These pellets — made out of plastic waste from all over Accra — are then sold as feedstock to formal industries both in Ghana and globally that have the capability to produce plastics films.

The existing model of plastics micro-factories in Agbogbloshie deserves support and attention. In effect they perform a massive public service: cleaning up the city of Accra, by making profits from our plastic waste.

Grinding machine in Agbogbloshie
Grinding machine in Agbogbloshie

Prototyping a Laser Spectroscope

Materials are usually classified according to their physical and chemical properties. New technologies today are making the identification of materials increasingly simple, fast and reliable. Building on our earlier research in using spectroscopy and the physics of light to visually differentiate materials, we are now ready to ask: Can we make a laser-induced breakdown spectrometer, locally in Ghana?

Two physics teaching assistants from the University of Ghana signed on with AMP team to help us find out: Nutifafa Y. Doumon (who already participated in #ampqamp), with an MSc degree in Nanoscience from University of Groningen, in the Netherlands and Rodney Abugre, who recently graduated with an MPhil in Physics from University of Ghana.

Test experiment for material surface excitation with an incandescent light
Test experiment for material surface excitation with an incandescent light

We first reviewed existing technologies and later performed our own experiments. Materials were sourced from Agbogbloshie, since the device will be used to test scrap metal from that location.

The goal for our first three experiments was to investigate the laser excitation process of the material surfaces. Apparatus include: Laser light source, converging lens, sample holder and timer. In the laser excitation process we expect the electromagnetic energy of the laser light to be transformed into thermal energy inside the metal and this based on the amount of energy absorbed by the metal. In our experiment we tested this principle using red laser of power 1 mW & < 5 mW, and an incandescent light of power 100 W. From the test experiments, we conclude that due to low power output of the laser light available, we cannot obtain the desirable results from the experiment (See pre-lab here).

Test setup to study laser interaction with material's surface
Test setup to study laser interaction with material’s surface

The next step was to set up and calibrate the complete optical path with components such as, prism, diffraction grating,  laser source, lens, filters mirrors and a camera. In this optical system, our major need is to find a laser with high enough power output to help us obtain the correct spectrum through excitation process.

We will use this system to record the spectrum for the different materials, analyze them using MatLab software and compare results to literature.  In the latter stages, the Agbogbloshie community will be engaged in a workshop on spectroscopy.

The setup for laser alignment [top view]
The setup for laser alignment [top view]
The setup for laser alignment [view from laser source]
The setup for laser alignment [view from laser source]

Agbogbloshie Material Metrics

The E-waste processing industry in Ghana has in recent times attracted much interest and research. However, one major hurdle in researching this urban phenomenon is inadequate records on volumes passing through such places as Agbogbloshie. This situation makes the task of describing it with specific and accurate numbers very difficult. Motivated by this, the AMP team has undertaken to gradually map out the quantities of metals passing through this most complex open air factory. On the map below are GPS locations of burning, dismantling, mosques among others in Agbogbloshie. The GREEN points indicate weighing scale locations.

Screenshot 2014-10-17 20.12.33
Map of Agbogbloshie. source AMP field work 2014

In collaboration with our field agents, we devised a simple way to quantify the volume of urban mining happening in Agbogbloshie. First, we  mapped the scales (see picture above), which are the points at which large volumes of metals are weighed.

A weighing scale in Agbogblosie
A weighing scale in Agbogbloshie

We then proceeded to collect on a daily basis, the amounts of scrap metals weighed at these places. In what we considered to be the pilot phase, we recorded over a three week period, the figures from a select group of scale owners and then, analyzed these graphically.

graph all material graph value graph 3

One finds, there are ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals and plastics. During the process, we realized that, significant volumes of steel from such large equipment such as cars are not weighed due to their sheer size. They are rather sent straight to steel processing industries such as those in Tema. Hence, even though the graph indicates aluminium as the largest, this only refers to household appliances that are regularly weighed and documented. In the future, this “lost” data will be retrieved from these industries. At the current rate, copper is the most valuable metal ( 7 GHC/pound) followed by brass(4 GHC/pound) and aluminium (1.5 GHC/pound). When it comes to plastics, the most commonly processed are polypropylene (PP) and high density polyethylene (HDPE). At the end of the month of November, the team will go on a massive data hunt, collecting on a much larger scale, this kind of information from all over Agbogbloshie.

You are welcome to volunteer!!

Spectroscopy for 3E-materials ID

E-waste workers in Agbogbloshie determine material type based on experience: years of dismantling and disassembly, visual examination and use of magnets to identify ferrous metals. However, in order to improve recycling practices — including protecting workers from hazardous materials — more advanced methods are required for identifying 3E-materials (i.e. materials present in Electrical and Electronic Equipment).

For the past few months, AMP team has been researching one technology that can help — spectroscopy, which detects the wavelengths of light unique to each material. First, we built a paper spectroscope that enables us see various spectra of light. Other DIY projects we have tried include foldable mini-spectrometer, and cd spectrometer. We used the spectral workbench software to analyze some spectra of light from different sources we recorded. Some of the sources were white florescent, blue light and candle light.

blue fluo

The goal of this research is to build a spectroscope that enables us to analyze the elemental composition of scrap materials in Agbogbloshie. A promising technique for identifying chemical elemental composition of a sample is called Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS).  Another DIY project of interest to this research is the ramanpi spectrometer which is based on raman spectroscopy. These and other techniques will be explored to achieve the goals of our research.

Assembling of lamp holder
Assembling a lamp holder
Testing the paper spectroscope
Testing the paper spectroscope

















Hanging out in Agbogbloshie

It’s not every day you get people agreeing to hang out in a place they consider a slum, particularly where its been labelled as a highly toxic area. On the 21st day of September 2014, for the second year running, the National volunteer’s day took place all over the country. Also known as founder’s day, is the birthday of the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. The day was initiated by the Ghana think foundation as a way of encouraging the spirit of patriotic volunteerism among young people around the country.

The AMP team reached out to the public to help tell the story of Agbogbloshie. Even before physically meeting on the site on event day, the energy was high and the vibe on social media was intensive. Actually, we converged on social media, long before we did in Agbogbloshie. When we finally migrated from our digital space to real space, we converged in front of the national youth authority building, where filled with a high sense of purpose to make a difference, participants, without much prompting, initiated conversations between themselves and e-waste workers who had been interviewed by the AMP team. The eventual venue for the pre-event orientation was in the green advocacy office space, which it has benevolently made available for use by the national youth authority and the scrap dealers association.


After brief introductions of AMP team and the executives of the Greater Accra Scrap Dealers Association, the activities of the day began in earnest. The activities for the day fell into three neat categories of :

Mapping: GPS locations of water sources, maker culture, electricity sources and food joints in the yard.

Spacecraft: Drilling of holes, leveling the ground and assembling of Octet trusses

Storytellers: Video recording of activities of some e-waste workers

Micro-architecture: Observe workspaces of scrap dealers

The volunteers comprised of freelance journalists, designers, architects, students, videographers and photographers amongst others. Participants volunteered to join one or the other category and all groups went out to undertake diligently their assignment for about two hours after which all conveyed back to the AMP site to help in assembling the spacecraft. The assembling of the spacecraft was centre stage for the day. The team had drawings of the makerspace mounted, while assembly proceeded. Once the community (e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie) got to know about our intention, they availed themselves and participated with enthusiasm in the tasks till the end. There was a lot of fun, as well as very relevant connections made. There was even a point where participants including the e-waste workers came together to sing.


The volunteers were delighted to participate as they discovered a lot about Agbogbloshie. They made very interesting videos and took some pictures which some of them shared on blog posts.

The program has actually achieved its goals and through this AMP progressed on the building of the spacecraft. It also created an atmosphere for the community to socialize. The program helped in correcting this false notion of Agbogbloshie being just a land of pollution and dumb site in the mind of people. They realized that aside dismantling of electronic equipment there is also a lot of relevant maker and/or recycler culture.


Jerry outreach

Could Agbogbloshie begin to supply low-cost upcycled computers to children in Old Fadama? Could this scope expand beyond this territory to other parts of Accra and to the under-privileged in Ghana? Could this net expand to cover the entire African continent? Imagine upcycled computers, supplied to all parts of the world from Agbogbloshie. There is a promising  future for this and needs to start somewhere.

As part of engaging the Agbogbloshie community and STEAM professionals, AMP organized a ‘maker workshop’ to teach e-waste workers how to make a Jerry and install software on it. After a rainy morning, the AMP team arrived in Agbogbloshie in the afternoon. Most of the work-spaces in the scrap yard were partially flooded. Being Friday, and a majority of the e-waste workers being Muslims, they had just arrived from the Friday afternoon prayers. Since prior arrangements had been made with Sam Sandow (AMP agent in Agbogbloshie) and Zack (E-waste worker), the workshop started in one of the computer shops in Agbogbloshie located near the entertainment center.  It is owned and operated by the Nigerian called ”Emeka”. The very same person from which components were sourced for the Jerry workshop in Kokrobite. The shop has shelves on which one would find hard drives,  mother boards, circuit boards and many others.

Emeka's computer shop in Agbogbloshie
Emeka’s computer shop in Agbogbloshie

Upon arrival, the team pitched tent and Daniel (AMP intern from  creativity group KNUST) briefly introduced the Jerry concept to the community.  After we explained the concept to Emeka, a monitor, keyboard and mouse, were made available for us to use.  He also gave us a compact disc (CD) with an operating system. The team  installed it and  allowed the participants to familiarize themselves with the Jerry whilst interactively exchanging ideas with the AMP makers collective.

It’s highly informative and exciting to think that, these same e-waste workers who are among the most marginalized and least literate are actually computer literate- and that some of them are even self-thought. This reveals how much youthful potential is being lost to class stereotyping and the resultant marginalization.

The team later presented the concept of the Quadcoper to the workers by Samuel Amoako (AMP intern and student from KNUST). It was then flown on the football field to demonstrate how it will help AMP map Agbogbloshie and also monitor air pollution levels.

AMP collective on the football field in Agbogbloshie…About to fly the Quadcopter

All through history, some of the most fascinating discoveries have come about as a result of conversations between two unlikely parties or people from highly divergent backgrounds who would ordinarily not interact. The creation of a community space where such interaction can happen and spark new genius via the crafting of the  ground breaking ideas and objects is one of the central objectives of AMP.

As usual, the workers were busy with their activities: dismantling, loading trucks with scrap metals etc… but some were able to spend time with us and expressed their interest in making one themselves. One of the common questions asked was..whether the plastic will melt when the computer overheats? We answered them by discussing the physical properties of the type of plastic used, such as its melting temperature which is about 130oC and it’s combustion point which is between 340oC to 380oC. Another major concern was the market for the product and the price one should be sold. In effect they appreciated the fact that, parts of old computers can be sourced and used to make a server that works and are cheaper. The AMP team hopes to transfer the knowledge in assembling Jerry computer to making a Jerry Laptop (‘JerryTop’) in the near future.






Listening to Agbogbloshie

Sam interviewing e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie

Agbogbloshie has suffered incredibly from the single story syndrome, imposed on it by the media and those with the opportunity to tell its story. Beyond the e-waste, the burning and the hardship, that usually characterises the gruesome descriptions of this urban enclave and its surroundings, there are several industries and practices within this urban site that gives it the kind of rich urban flavour that the space has. One major way of way of dealing with this threat of the single story, is to engage directly with a people. To see through their eyes and to feel what they feel. At AMP, we have made it our lifetime goal, to change first, the story of Agbogbloshie, for “he wields power over you who tells your story”.

In the last few months, the AMP team have sought to hear the stories of e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie through the use of interviews. For us, these are the voices that should be heard. It is our primary aim, through these interviews, to give a voice to the voiceless, to inform the E-waste workers and invite them to be a part of the AMP makers collective. The team recruited and trained two of the e-waste workers (Sam & Iddrisou) to help with the process and they have been engaged in all AMPs activities for the past five months. They participated fully and performed tasks from translation to administering the questionnaires themselves as well as photographing the work spaces of the interviewees. As part of the interview process the team continued to map the e-waste landscape, this time, with specific reference to the interviewees and the location of their workspaces. From this data a detailed map of the Agbogbloshie ecosystem is being constructed. The process is helping the team better understand the working conditions of e-waste workers, the various relationships that exist between them, their future aspirations and the nature of the Agbogbloshie site itself. Hopefully, this will help the team better integrate their needs into the project. So far, over 500 workers have been interviewed. The interviews, which started in May 2014 and are still ongoing and have four main areas of interest:

  1. E-Waste Expertise 2. Training   3. Health Awareness and Practices  4. Aspirations

So far, certain patterns are beginning to emerge- majority of the population in Agbogbloshie are from the Northern part of Ghana especially towns and villages near Tamale, the lingua franca of Agbogbloshie is Dagbani, though some have good command of the English language, majority do not. Most of them dropped out of school at the Junior high school and primary (P5 & P6) levels.

E-waste workers engage in various forms of purchasing of equipment, disassembly, weighing and sale, and provide several tons of urban mined materials like copper.  There are also many industrious and entrepreneurial individuals who make highly useful objects. Indeed, Agbogbloshie is more than just an e-waste dump. During the survey we took  photographs  of some of the activities that go on in the yard and here is a field note.

Despite all of these very positive aspects of Agbogbloshie, there still remains the blight of filth and cable burning which means the risk of contamination and disease are highly pervasive. In general, there is a fair level of awareness about health risks amongst the e-waste workers. Thanks to the ubiquitous media coverage of that specific issue, e-waste workers are at least vaguely aware of the adverse effects of burning on their health. They however said that since it was their job, they felt as if they had no option than to do it. In reaction to this discovery on health, the AMP team have designed a utility shirt for the workers. When the second prototype of the utility shirt (the spacesuit) was showed them, e-waste workers insisted on the face gear (with possible embedded gas mask). It was observed that, workers in Agbogbloshie start their day early with the cart pushers, moving out early in the morning to source electronic equipment. Our discoveries provide us with information about Agbogbloshie but this is helping us understand the workings of informal communities, and people who are surviving on the “peripheries” of our awareness and yet contribute significantly to our lives. More than just an e-waste dump, Agbogbloshie is a huge open air manu-factory.

#ampqamp14 – Weeek 1

First weeek =) of#ampqamp14 started at Hub Accra by a discussion of AMP’s objectives for the three coming weeeks: to co-design and build with AMP makers (comprising of STEAM students and graduates and eventually e-waste workers) a module of the spacecraft–AMP’s  makerspace–and share its progress with the community in Agbogbloshie.

Participants started discussing the design of the spacecraft, its frame and interior frame comprising of an octet truss system, prefab panels, soft and roof systems. We then developed a critical path for each system so to know what to do at each step of the way until we build the spacecraft. The brainstorming sessions were very intensive, with some of the participants sketching/drawing the various concepts related to the spacecraft.



Participants designing the critical path
Participants designing the critical path

By the second day we enthusiastically produced fully developed critical paths,  identified and quantified in terms of duration and dependency of the various tasks

Critical path for AMPQAMP
Critical path for AMPQAMP

We also prepared for the first workshop ahead, the plastic workshop to be carried out at the Rex Cinema in collaboration with Brad Marley and Efya  from the POLY Bank GH organization. In preparation for the workshop, we conducted background research on the physical properties, melting methods and stewing methods. We sourced the plastic–shredded-PET (polyethylene therephatlate) old plastic bottles and stewed shredded-PP (polypropylene)–and a number of molds from Agbogbloshie. This was also a good occasion to share our process with the Agbogbloshie community. This is a picture of the tools we brought to the Rex Cinema to conduct our experiments.

Tools bought from Agbogbloshie for the experiment
Tools bought from Agbogbloshie for the experiment

The Rex is an open-air cinema, a wonderful space to experiment within. There, young Ghana makers were busy melting, stewing and molding different types of plastics and exploring the production of architectural parts, panels, brick or tiles, made of recycled plastic. Sam and Idrissou, Agbogbloshie community agents, helped with burning the charcoal.. They were far more skilled than us!

DSC_0302photo 4

Below are some of the observations from the experiment:

  • We observed that the PET melting process was very slow and began really late, also at temperatures slightly higher than 260◦c, which is the theoretical melting point value. PET began to char and thus underwent incomplete carbonation and changing color from a transparent blue color a marble brown colored plastic. PP however, started melting at a lower temperature and rather melted over a larger temperature range and also produced a smooth finish.

    Marble brown colored tile made from PET
  • We may have over heated the PET plastics, which led to the formation of a brittle-porous tile.
  • Contributing factors to such brittleness of the plastic panel are associated to the cooling rate and media and this caused cracks.
  • DSC_0879
    Cracked tile made from PET
  • Also, the temperature of the charcoal flame could not be controlled and hence over heating ensued.
  • It was also observed that stewing of PET did not work. This is probably due to the fact that it has a high melting temperature and the oil doing not facilitate that phenomenon.
  • PP plastics however work well with stewing in oil. From the experiment, we formed a very strong mold which can be used for wall panels, table tops and many others.
Brick made by stewing PP plastics


Find here the Lab report.

We were honored to host Prof. Kwadjo Osseo-Asare (AMP co-PI) and Dr. Victor Oteng-Atiemo (retired from MD of DOW chemical Ghana) who gave us advices on how to proceed and continue our experiments.


Here is the link to Flickr photo set.

A smokeless future for Agbogbloshie

In line with the intention to make tools for the remaking of the Agbogbloshie electronic landscape, the AMP team, in collaboration with Rafa Font of Recyhub, met at the Kokrobite institute to assemble the Hal Watts’ E-source– a man- powered copper cable shredder. The two day session commenced in high spirits with each person, contributing to the assembly. Slowly but surely, all the parts came together and the basic functions tested. At the end, a few observations were made about its applicability to Agbogbloshie, and these were recorded as notes for the designers to consider.

Hal Watt first design
Hal Watts’ first design of E-source.

First developed as a bicycle with cable shredding capabilities, this new prototype, still maintains the idea of pedaling as a means to power the machine. It however deviates from the initial literality of a bicycle. The design was inspired by the problem of burning copper cables in Agbogbloshie, which Hal visited, to gain firsthand experience of the situation. The AMP and Recyhub teams were joined by students from the college of engineering KNUSTs creativity group. These are engineering students with an interest in e-waste processing.

The AMP team started by unpacking and positioning the frame, and then the tubes for water were appropriately placed. The next in line was the turning wheel, which we placed in the part of the frame allocated for it. We then proceeded to hang the chains on the cassettes and connected it to the main shredder blades which sits at the centre of the frame. This was followed by the pedals which we bolted in place. After testing to see that the pedal functions as it should, we proceeded to install the processing trough and then tested once again to ensure that it moved when pedaled. We then adjusted the seat until it was in the right position and then bolted it. Following this, we placed the receptacle for the cables over the blades, filled a barrel with water and then proceeded to fill it with cables and began testing the entire set up.

The second prototype of the E-source assembled in Kokrobite by AMP and Recyhub
The second prototype of the E-source assembled in Kokrobite by AMP and Recyhub

On the second day of the workshop, the function and assembly process were explained and tested further in collaboration with students from the Ashesi University, who were in Kokroite to engage in various forms of maker workshops. They found the experience thrilling and enthusiastically asked a lot of questions. Among the questions that came up were:

  • Is it possible to find a low energy way of mechanizing the system?
  • How easy or otherwise will it be for people in Agbogbloshie to assemble the machine themselves?
  • Will the volumes of cables shredded by the machine compare favorably with volumes currently processed in Agbogbloshie by means of burning?
Students from Ashesi University learning about the Esource.
Students from Ashesi University learning about the Esource.

In terms of future steps, the AMP team hopes that, further studies in collaboration with stakeholders such as Recyhub,  the creativity group and Hal & Watt (inventors of the e-source) will help to advance this initiative until such a time that, all e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie have a version installed and the burning of cables no longer occurs.

See more pictures on Flickr

Archibots: Remaking Agbogbloshie (design workshop)

The AMP team guided Archibots: Remaking Agbogbloshie design participants through Agbogbloshie by first introducing them to the the executives of the scrap dealers’ association. We proceeded through Rauf’s shop, where large volumes of refrigerators are processed, to the National Youth Authority Building, through dismantling and processing sites, past the areas where copper cables are burnt and all the way to the plastics recycling sector near the International Central Gospel Church.

Back to Hub Accra (thanks for hosting us!), the fun could begin! After hearing a brief introduction about AMP (DK Osseo-Asare, AMP co-PI) and the objectives of the design workshop (Juliet Sakyi, TAP: Build founder), participants brainstormed about possible architecture robots for Agbogbloshie and its population. Sam Yusuf, who hails from Agbogbloshie and currently works with AMP on interviews and GPS mapping, also attended in order to share some of the ideas with informal sector community. MESH has prepared a video showing highlights of the event.

Smokeybot team, brainstorming.
Powersuit team presenting their work
Powersuit team discussing their work
Solarbot team presenting their work
Solarbot team presenting their work
Smokeybot team presenting their work
Smokeybot team presenting their work


Amongst the multitude of ideas that emerged, participants chose to pursue investigating the following: SMOKEYBOT – a robot that reduces the smoke in Agbogbloshie by grinding and processing copper wires ; SOLARBOT – a mobile tent, with a capacity to harvest solar energy, detect light and intelligently self adjust to provide conducive working environments ; SPIDERBOT – a zoomorphic robot with the ability to collect, transport and process large volume of e -waste at a time and a POWERSUIT – an apparel for humans, with the capacity to read, interpret and transmit biological data to the wearer, boost physical performance and contain computing capacity.


Teams self-organized once more to each tackle one of the 4 ideas selected. In the future a swarm of similar architecture robots could be used to terraform the electronic landscape…

A sketch of Powersuit
A sketch of Powersuit
A sketch of Smokeybot
A sketch of Smokeybot
A sketch of Solarbot
A sketch of Solarbot
A sketch of Spiderbot
A sketch of Spiderbot

So the adventure isn’t finished yet… Participants have expressed their interest in following-up with M&D – Making and Development. AMP is actually formalizing a 3 week summer workshop, so stay tuned!

The turnout was awesome and we thank all participants for coming and our partner organisations MESH and Tap for their support and contributions.

Post event group photograph