Creator of Phonebloks Visits Infamous Scrapyard

Dave Hakkens, creator of Phonebloks, went to the most infamous landfill and scrap site in the world: Agbogbloshie.

Phonebloks went viral two years ago, when Hakkens—a Dutch designer—proposed a modular smartphone that could be easily repaired and upgraded: a “phone worth keeping,” as Hakkens called it. The concept hit a nerve—the video was viewed by millions and garnered worldwide media attention. Phonebloks even caught the attention of Google, which decided to develop its own modular phone, Project Ara.

Why did Hakkens want to create a modular phone in the first place? To stem the growing onslaught of e-waste. So, it makes sense that Hakkens decided to visit Agbogbloshie—a suburb of Accra, Ghana—which international press has repeatedly labeled as ground-zero for e-waste.

Of course, the reality on the ground is much more complex. Agbogbloshie isn’t just a burning e-wasteland—it’s a community of about 40,000 people. There are schools, homes, community centers, an onion market, scrappers, repair shops, and markets for used goods. The informal waste sector processes everything from computers to appliances, keyboards to cars. In some shops, computers are ingeniously refurbished, reused, and resold. In other parts of the scrap market, young men burn wires from electronics, appliances, and cars to get at the copper inside of them.

Recycling at an e-waste scrapyard in Agbogbloshie
Our CEO, Kyle Wiens, took this photo of a local disassembling a computer for parts and refurbishment, right at the entrance to the big Ghana electronics scrapyard Agbogbloshie.

Like most complex things, Agbogbloshie is neither wholly tragedy, nor triumph. It’s a multi-faceted community, with unique challenges that require unique solutions. And where there is cause for despair, there is just as much cause for hope.

Hakkens went to Agbogbloshie to investigate e-waste—but he found so much more:

Hakkens actually has just released a lot of new, interesting videos as part of Story Hopper. The project seeks to effect change by sharing cool ideas.