Engineers, Makers and Scrappers Work Together in Ghana

DK Osseo-Asare explains the process of bringing together scrappers in Agbogbloshie and STEM professionals who can use their materials.

DK Osseo-Asare has an important distinction about the way people think about electronic waste – dumps are places where you leave things that no longer have value, but scrapyards are places where you dismantle objects with the idea of making something new. In his TED Talk What a scrapyard in Ghana can teach us about innovation, Osseo-Asare explains his ideas for makers, scrappers and engineers and how they interact in Agbogbloshie, Ghana.  

DK says that media portrays the scrapyard as a place where men and boys burn material to recover copper and aluminum, creating pollution and harming fatty tissues. He reframes this urban mining as a more effective way to get gold, silver, palladium and platinum. Most of us think as our electronic devices as black boxes without knowledge of how they function or the parts they consist of, but these scrappers pay attention to detail. Functional components are sent to repair workshops, then sold to consumers who can’t afford new machines.

Yasmine Abbas and Osseo-Asare started a program to bring these scrappers and makers together with students and young STEAM workers. Working together the groups found ways to develop new processes and tools, stripping wires for copper instead of burning wires to recover it, molding plastic bricks, building new computers with old components, and creating a drone that flew in the scrapyard.

More than 1500 people have worked through the program, and a platform called Spacecraft was developed as a physical / digital space for making and innovating. The center of the platform are prefabbed, modular, mobile makerspaces. Customizable toolkits and an app built around trading materials are the other components of Spacecraft. DK describes the system as makers looking for the materials and skills to create their objects, while end users are looking for the object, and scrappers are on the lookout for scrap and processing it to facilitate more making.

Osseo-Asare is a great speaker with lowkey delivery style but complete optimism in his voice. The Agbogbloshie project is a great example of engineers and makers creating what they need from the resources available and working to eliminate waste and unsustainable processes.