Qualitative researchers hitherto were reluctant to familiarize themselves with what was already known about their research interest to ensure open mindedness in the research process. However, this position was rejected due in part to the assumptions that knowledge creation required prior abstract formation, and the need to build informed expectations about the task at hand (Elliott and Timulak, 2005). Base on the latter premises, an extensive literature review on economic, environmental and human health impact of informal e-waste recycling together with its global trend and management in Ghana was conducted. Whereas a sizable amount of literature on the economic, environmental and human health impact of informal recycling exist, little is known about the subjective opinions of the recycle workers on their activities (Daum, Stoler and Grant, 2017) and how they prioritize these three elements of informal processing of e-waste. Materials were considered for review based on the content and year of publication not extending beyond ten (10) years.
2.1 A Brief Assessment of the Global Trend of E-waste
E-waste production is a universal phenomenon with developed countries being the largest contributors. According to Baldé et al. (2015), Africa and Asia generated 1.9 and 16.0 mt of e-waste in 2014 respectively. Correspondingly, Europe and Americas contributed around 11.6 and 11.7 mt in that same year. From this estimation, Africa is the lowest generator of e-waste after Oceania which recorded 0.6 mt (Baldé et al. 2015). This corresponds to earlier estimation by Schluep et al. (2009) that a global trend of 40 mt of e-waste is generated in a year. The main source of e-waste in developing countries, especially Ghana and Nigeria, is from illegal import (Lundgren, 2012). Despite the attempted quantification by scholars on the generation of e-waste, the illegal nature of the trade has left many devices that have reached their end of life, indiscernible to international and national statistics. The globally amassed e-waste constitutes a large fraction of world resources which makes treating e-waste properly not just harmful but useful to the environment.
Diverse modes of treatment are employed across the world to recover the valuable in e-waste. Whereas treatment of e-waste in developed nations is largely formal, several informal methods are used in developing countries to achieve similar result (Schluep et al. 2009; Lundgren 2012; Baldé, et al. 2015). Additionally, the formal and informal ways of recycling e-waste, follow three chains identified by Schluep et al. (2009) as collecting, dismantling and processing. In the formal recycling systems, these three steps according to Schluep, Resources and Hagel (2009) are mutually dependent and contribute towards the net yield. Due to the complexity of the components of e-waste, substantial investments in advanced technologies is required to handle the varied and intricate elements of e-waste (Schluep, Resources and Hagel, 2009). Responsibilities of handling e-waste has shifted to countries with minimum or zero legislation. What is worrying is the fact that the consequences that ensued from rudimentary processing of e-waste in developing nations affects other part of the world. It is, therefore, necessary to establish strict legislation that prevents the transboundary movement of e-waste.
Several legislations exit to control illegal exportation of e-waste from different destinations over the years. Among these legislative initiatives are the Basel Convention (1989), the Bamako Convention (1998), and the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2003). The Basel Convention is mandated to regulate global transboundary movement of hazardous waste and their disposal. The agreement came into force in 1992 and has remained the only internationally recognized convention regarding e-waste and it administration (Lundgren, 2012). Endorsed by about 170 countries, the Basel Convention additionally, strives to reduce the generation of e-waste and advocate for more environmentally friendly treatment (Schluep, Resources and Hagel, 2009; Lundgren, 2012). At regional levels, the Bamako Convention and the European Union Waste Directive were established in Africa and Europe respectively to control both the regional movement and treatment of e-waste.
2.2 An overview of e-waste and its Management in Ghana
Ghana is among the leading West African countries receiving e-waste from around the world. In addition to import from developed countries, other African countries such as Nigeria through their port in Lagos, smuggle their e-waste to the Ghana (Grant and Oteng-Ababio, 2012). It was estimated that in 2009 Ghana had received 215,000 mt of electronics and electrical equipment (EEE) with only 30% of the shipments comprising new products and 70% labelled as second-hand EEE (Amoyaw-Osei and Agyekum, 2011). About 15% of the second-hand EEE were unfunctional at the time of arrival (Amoyaw-Osei and Agyekum, 2011). Although Ghana is among the countries that has endorsed the Basel and Bamako Conventions, the country as a whole does not have effective national legislation that will support the enforcement of the international and regional treaties (Oteng-Ababio, 2012a; Daum, Stoler and Grant, 2017).
Whereas quantification of the amount and types of e-waste available in the country is lacking, about half of the second-hand EEE shipped goes directly into informal recycling (Grant and Oteng-Ababio, 2012). Informal processing of e-waste to recover valuables takes charge of obsolete gadget recycling in Ghana and has put the country among the highest e-waste collecting nations. It was estimated that the informal collection accounted for about 80% of e-waste in the country (Amoyaw-Osei and Agyekum, 2011). Despite this contribution, the informal sector is largely unregulated and the rudimentary methods employed by the informal e-waste recyclers is shown to be harmful to the human-environments systems (Asante et al., 2012; Huang, Nkrumah and Anim, 2014; Daum, Stoler and Grant, 2017). Attempts to effectively manage e-waste in Ghana will require proper understanding of how those involve make meaning of their activities.
2.3 Monetary Benefit of Informal Processing of E-waste
To Governments and international organizations concern about the uncontrolled way of processing e-waste, the monetary impact of informal processing of e-waste may take a back-seat to human and environmental health impacts. However, the accrued and expected monetary benefit of informal processing of e-waste has been the brain behind its proliferation in many urban communities of developing nations. Agyei-Mensah & Oteng-Ababio (2012) in their study about health and environmental perceptions of managing e-waste in Ghana found that, the views of individuals directly involved in e-waste activities is influenced by economic benefit. Their study disclosed an average monthly earning of ‘GH¢ 550.83 (US$ 377.28)’ for e-waste workers in the capital were Agbogbloshie is located (Agyei-Mensah & Oteng-Ababio 2012, p.513). Such a monthly income, although may differ among e-waste workers, due to their roles, is essential to the life of an individual in Ghana’s capital.
Akormedi et al. (2013) confirm this with relatively higher returns. In their study, which was intended to examine informal e-waste recycling and working conditions at Agbogbloshie, they found that a daily wage of an e-waste worker at Agbogbloshie ranges between USD$16 and USD$52 (p.282). This puts the monthly earning of an e-waste worker between USD$480 and USD$1560. However, the earnings depend on the activities an individual is involved in, with burners earning the least wage per day. The likelihood of going back home without earning any money according to Akormedi et al. (2013) has informed the decision of most of the workers to seek more stable businesses after raising enough capital from informal e-waste processing. The two studies above pointed to the profitability of informal e-waste recycling.
Many informal recyclers do not intend to stay in the business forever, rather to accumulate capital through savings in order to start another business. Amankwaa (2013) found enormous savings and investment culture among e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie. Using both questionnaires and in-depth interviews, Amankwaa extensively explored e-waste workers’ saving habits and where they normally keep their earnings. More than half of his respondents involved in savings, could keep not less than USD$10 a week with a recognized or traditional financial intermediaries (Amankwaa, 2013). The study, however, failed to establish what these savings were commonly used for. Additionally, the fluctuating nature of e-waste workers’ earnings, makes such estimations debatable.
Part of wages earned from informal recycling by e-waste workers are sent in remittances to immediate and extended families in the northern part of Ghana. A socio-economic assessment and feasibility study on a sustainable way of managing e-waste by Prakash ; Manhart (2010) estimated a total of 20,300 to 33,600 people as indirect beneficiaries of earnings from informal recycling of e-waste in Ghana. Another study by Amankwaa (2014) found that e-waste workers provide significant support to families and dependents out of the money they make from their activities. While both studies by Prakash ; Manhart (2010) and Amankwaa (2014) have contributed to the literature by throwing light on the extended benefits of earning from informal processing of e-waste, the usual reason for the support and most identified beneficiaries are still unknown. Notwithstanding the enormous livelihood benefits derived from informal processing of e-waste, the rudimentary means employed have adverse impact on the human-environment systems.
2.4 Human Health Impact of Informal Processing of E-waste
Health risks associated with informal processing of e-waste has been an important aspect of e-waste debates that has been extensively explored. It is worth mentioning that the basis for many studies including those that point out the livelihood benefits of e-waste, were to discover the health effect of recycling e-waste informally.
Using the binary logistic regression model, Agyei-Mensah ; Oteng-Ababio (2012) found that almost all the e-waste workers were aware of the health risk associated with processing e-waste informally. However, e-waste workers knowledge of the health consequences does not correspond with experts findings (Agyei-Mensah and Oteng-Ababio, 2012). Opinions about health effects among e-waste workers do not extend beyond accident related injuries. Burns and cuts as a result of dismantling of e-waste, are the apparent human health dangers, in addition to body pain due to longer day of work. Though, Agyei-Mensah ; Oteng-Ababio went further to uncover the common diseases recorded by a polyclinic around the e-waste site, additional insight regarding e-waste workers conduct in seeking health care could have added much weight to their findings.
In a broader context, our knowledge regarding the health effect of informal processing of e-waste on the workers should include, understanding patterns of remedial activities they employ to overcome perceived or observable afflictions. Using grounded theory approach, Asampong et al. (2015), confirming the finding by Agyei-Mensah ; Oteng-Ababio (2012), further explored health seeking habits of e-waste workers. They found that e-waste workers at Agbogbloshie seek health care from several health providers. Decisions regarding where to seek health medication among e-waste workers was influenced by the extent of injury, readiness and easy contact with health practitioners in addition to the cost and expected benefits involved in seeking health care (Asampong et al., 2015). Admittedly, the amount of money needed to seek health care from established medical facilities, like clinics and hospital, is relatively higher than that of indigenous health practitioners. This eventually makes subscription to a primary health care insurance known as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) a laudable idea. Contrary, Asampong et al. (2015) in their study found that the majority of the workers were without national health insurance. The study, however, failed to explore the reasons behind low subscription of NHIS.
Other health related studies have claim more serious and complicated health problem among e-waste workers at Agbogbloshie and elsewhere (Caravanos et al., 2013; Grant et al., 2013; Feldt et al., 2014; Wittsiepe et al., 2015). Caravanos et al. (2013) employed an exploratory cross-sectional strategy to describe health features of e-waste workers at Agbogbloshie. Chemical exposure in urine and blood serum among e-waste (exposed group) and non-e-waste workers (control group) were examined. The study found high absorption of heavy metals in the blood sample of e-waste workers. Equally, the exposed population recorded much more elements of ‘barium, manganese, selenium and zinc’, than the controlled population (Caravanos et al. 2013, p.20). Examining e-waste workers opinions on health assist in understanding how they balance their economic needs with their sense of protecting their lives.
2.5 Environmental Impact of Informal Processing of E-waste
Several procedures especially, dismantling and burning employed by informal e-waste recyclers at Agbogbloshie to recover valuable resources from e-waste has numerous impact on the environment. Contamination of water bodies, soil, and air pollution in and around Agbogbloshie are the mostly explored effect of informal processing of e-waste on the environment (Caravanos et al., 2011; Otsuka et al., 2012; Chama, Amankwa and Oteng-Ababio, 2014).
Caravanos et al. (2011) using technical laboratory equipment took air and soil sample of Agbogbloshie to examine the host of chemical contamination on the site. Their study reported a breathing space that contains elevated concentration of aluminium, copper, iron, and lead. More than half of the 100 soil samples from different parts of the site had lead concentrations ranging from 134 ppm to 18,125 ppm, (Caravanos et al. 2011, p.23). According to Caravanos and his colleagues, these levels are beyond the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standard of 400 ppm and 1200 ppm for play and non-play areas respectively. However, it could be argued that comparing the environmental standard of Ghana with that of the United State is a byzantine attempt since, the values that sum up the assumption of those standards are absence in the former.
Otsuka et al. (2012) and Chama, Amankwa and Oteng-Ababio (2014) expanded the literature regarding environmental contamination at Agbogbloshie by examining chemical elements present at low level on the site in relation to the ideals of Japan and Canada respectively. Chama and his colleagues found that trace metals on the recycle site varies with areas near burning and dumping recording higher rates than other locations. Their findings upheld the assertion that informal processing of e-waste at Agbogbloshie had contributed to the contamination of the Odaw River. An earlier study by Prakash ; Manhart (2010) reported dissatisfaction among neighbouring residents regarding how e-waste recycling activities affect the Korle Lagoon and Odaw River. Pollution resulting from e-waste recycling activities has led to the extinction of aquatic species in lagoon which has hitherto served as a livelihood strategy for fishers (Prakash and Manhart, 2010). E-waste workers views on water and soil contamination is unknown.
Agyei-Mensah ; Oteng-Ababio (2012) examined e-waste workers knowledge on the environmental impacts of their activities. They found that air pollution was the overriding concern of e-waste workers. E-waste workers considered the smoke and chemicals from burning of e-waste harmful. Although the two researchers found some of their research participants unconcerned about the environmental impact, they were not much sure the source of this conflicting view. Examining the financial benefit with perception on health and environment is useful in revealing overlapping interest in informal meddling of e-waste. E-waste workers blamed the environmental problems of the area to uncontrol dumping of household waste and excretion on the site (Agyei-Mensah and Oteng-Ababio, 2012). Such a blame game among inhabitants of the site is not constructive to the environment and will, therefore, be cross-examined with the views of current inhabitant of the site.
In addition to the soil, water and air pollution, Akormedi et al. (2013), considered the working environment hazardous for both the e-waste workers and the surrounding populations. E-waste workers after trolling for discarded electronics from residential neighbourhoods, go through a long strenuous fatigue labour to extract valuable resources through burning (Akormedi, Asampong and Fobil, 2013). Akormedi and his colleagues found e-waste workers with limited knowledge of environmental consequences of their activities. However, their discussions and recommendation for a framework that establish a workable financial and social security for e-waste workers, suggest romanticism towards the e-waste workers and their activities. It could be reasoned that such commendation can subdue the continuous effort by authorities to curtail informal methods employed to recover valuables resources from e-waste.
Most of the studies conducted at Agbogbloshie were scientific and, therefore, only those related to the objective of the study were reviewed. Studies on monetary impact of e-waste showed that e-waste workers derive enormous monetary benefit from their activities. The reviewed literature showed that the monetary benefit of e-waste extends beyond the individual workers to their families. However, Knowledge about the most immediate and extended family beneficiaries of e-waste workers is void. Additionally, the monetary impact of e-waste was found to influenced workers’ views, on the impact of their activities on the environment and human health. However, nothing is known about how e-waste workers prioritize these three well-known impacts of e-waste. The push factors to the informal e-waste industry are still not clear in the literature. Moreover, workers daily routine and hours of work were not examined in the literature.
Although Agbogbloshie e-waste workers perception on environment and human health has been explored, it is important to revisit these opinions in order to ascertain how the environment and human health, in comparison with monetary benefits are assessed by e-waste workers. Equally, Knowledge about the reluctant attitude towards the primary health care scheme by e-waste workers, is yet to be explored. These and other knowledge gap that will unexpectedly arise in the primary data will be what this study is geared towards addressing.