Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.

The e-waste dump of Agbobloshie is one of the biggest in Africa. Here hundreds of young man coming from the northern rurals regions of Ghana work every day dismantling and recycling electronic scraps.

These processes results in enormous damage to the health of workers and to the surrounding environment.

Adjacent to the landfill Agbobloshie is also one of the largest food markets in the city.

“Consumer goods are meant to be used up and to disappear; the idea of temporariness and transitoriness is intrinsic to their very denomination as objects of consumption; consumer goods have memento mori written all over them, even if with an invisible ink.”

E-Waste is the new emerging pathology of the man-environment ecosystem, born during the current historic period characterized by capitalistic production. Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is the major flow of waste in the world, growing faster than any other type of waste.


With an annual volume that goes between 40 and 50 million tons, according to the UNEP (United Nation Environment Program), the growing amount of e-waste could grow exponentially, as much as 500 times over the coming decade. Especially in countries like India, China and some African regions where the technology industry is growing fast. It is hazardous waste, containing dozens of substances dangerous to human health and the environment; it is hard to be sustainably disposed of and it needs a costly processing technique to make it recyclable. This is the reason why about 80% of the e-waste produced in developed countries (North America and Europe on the top of the list) is not disposed of in situ, but shipped, most of the time illegally, to developing countries on cargo ships, where it is illegally disposed of.


In its history of subjection and exploitation of the planet’s resources, the human specie

has always produced scraps and waste as a side effect to its production and consumption activities. With the so-called industrial economy first, then the chemical, the petroleum and furthermore the plastic one, the waste produced by man couldn’t be metabolized and recycled by the force of nature that regulates the vital dynamics of the planet.


Electrical and electronic waste

(e-waste) is the major flow of waste in the world. With an annual volume that goes between 40 and 50

million tons.

Guangzhou, China

A boy waits for customers in his hardware materials store, inside a big shopping mall for electronics.

He sell mostly used materials which can then be used to compose "new" second-hand electronic items.


Lahore, Pakistan.

In a bulk warehouse of used electronic components, printed circuit boards waiting to be processed.


The commercialization process and the capitalistic valorization created a true “waste economy”.

This extends the logic behind profit and exploitation even to those scraps that it had

produced, creating a never ending cycle that profits from its own death.


Like organic waste, which becomes organic matter and regenerates life during decomposition, the capitalistic action uses the work of human being to decompose waste produced by other humans in order to generate profit.


No longer do worms and enzymes carry out the natural cycle of life and death, producing biochemical energy and fertilizing the land. Now men and women are forced to take apart inorganic carcasses and generate money for their survival and for other men’s profit.


The peculiar way of functional diversification and specialization of the human species, brought by the modern global organization and the capitalist system of production, subtracts from the natural resources and the knowledge from traditional production techniques, that were once sufficient to sustain the local populations. And it forces the population who is now deprived, to accept, as only solution, a survival condition given from operating a specific function inside the large world’s work division system.


Old and new colonization’s processes produce old and new functional specialization’s

forms based on ethnos and territory, giving life to generations of men and women condemned to carry out specific tasks. Men and women are “socially modified” to carry out a specific functional task to support the entire system.

300 million computers and 1 billion cell phones are put into production each year, growing 8% a year, indefinitely.

Lifespan of pc has dropped in developed countries from 6 years in 1997 to just 2 years today.

New Territories, Hong Kong.

A collection and stocking site for electrical and electronic waste. Here are collected large amounts of e-waste arrived by container ship at the port of Hong Kong. Will be stocked here for a short time, waiting to be transported overland to the various recycling sites in China, which is a few kilometers away. The border with Shenzehn is just behind those hills.


This is what happened to the “waste economy”, which, since it was born with the industrial  capitalism, has been subjected to changes implied by the transformation, that the industrial capitalism itself has been undergoing through time. In the same way, “ socially modified men” have been involved in transformations to adapt to the changed functional needs.


It is hard not to remember the role of the junk dealer of the city during the industrial age, or to not recognize the figure of the metal digger, usually looking for copper, going trough waste containers in the contemporary post industrial cities. Those two figures are the product of a different setting of the capitalistic system on a historic and quality level. Hard to leave out in this category are those who selected urban solid waste, working in the open-air dumpsters of western cities during the industrial era.

Between 50-100

e-waste containers travel every day from the U.S. to Hong Kong.

Old Seelampur, New Delhi, India.

Old transformers and inductors are boiling in a metal pot. What is emblematic is that this particular type of pieces is essentially used, in life, in the so-called “energy saving” applications.

"In life" then, these components are used to increase energy efficiency while also reducing CO2 pollution; when they "die" instead cause serious problems to people’s health.Most of the time, this technique is carried out in a yard or in private houses, just like in this case.


Lahore, Pakistan.

A guy stand in front of a huge pile of electronic components  which will be later processed to extract precious metals.



Perhaps today, thanks to the diffusion of the information linked to communications technology, it is easier to recognize men, women and children of African villages that “ decompose” big

commercial ships beached because left abandoned and adrift. Or maybe those who select urban solid waste in the open air dumpsters in Madagascar, a sublime place transformed into one of the 21st century post-industrial World’s dumpsters. The current phase of the “financial-biocognitive” capitalism defines the physiognomy of the present day version of the “waste economy”, accepting “e-waste” as matter and symbol of discontinuity and at the same time, peculiarity when compared to the past.


Trough cognitive machines we have the production of new, in their genre, consumerist

individualities; the substance of consumer objects, even in its symbolic meaning of social

emancipation instrument that characterized them during Ford’s era of mass production

and consumption, has now been drained of its ability to give pleasure. To avoid the

cognitive machines to become recyclable instruments of independent production of

multitudes, the objective of the capitalism of the millennia is to create bio-cognitive individualities destined to produce and to consume information, signs and symbols during their biologic existence, transferring to the immaterial content, true merchandise value.


In the informal recycling canal, scraps are salvaged to extract valuable materials, contained in the electronics goods, to resell it.

The cycle for the valorization of capital, that during the industrial and modernization era was represented with the famous formula “M-C-M+”i. Today, the biocognitive-financial capitalism becomes “M-I-M+” where I is the information that is continuously produced and consumed by individualized men who are the product of segmentation and biocognitive segregation.


To survive the drop of profits linked to the now computerized industrial production, the cognitive capitalism needs a “ digitalization of the Ego” induced to the continued fulfillment by its “ semiotic bulimia”, from which it can extract most part of its value, banishing materiality (that we already discussed as object of valorization) to become just a support, a vehicle, a means of the “sign”, where the sign is the real object of individual pleasure.



This unconditioned commercialization’s logic is a machine that produces dichotomies: “Sign”/ “support”/, “information”/ “matter”,

which reverberate on space-time

divergent dimensions. Signs and

information linger everywhere and

forever in hypermediated networks

and individual minds.

Support and matter stay limited and

localized as a result of a necessary and

procured physical and technological

obsolescence and of their specific

territorial localization at the end of the

employment cycle. And it is in this

procured “spatiality” that we go back

to the e-waste; a massacre of land and

men, brought by the neoliberal

management of digital consumerism’s



And it is always in this “spatiality” that

the matter meets materiality, the

misery and the blunt life conditions of

men, women and children that survive

de-composing it.


If in the solitude of life online there is

loss of contact with the materiality of

technological objects, it is this

spatiality that stuns when we find

those objects again in the form of a toxic dumpster. And the gaze of young men and adolescents that are forced to live in it is even more stunning.

 In Guiyu (China)

80% of the families is engaged in e-waste recycling.

Nearly 60.000 workers involved.

The vastness and the quantity of e-waste sites in poor southern countries is explained by the million of tons of electronic scraps poured out there. It is a growing flow because during the integration process of networks and territories to PC and to television we have to add a billion new mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops etc. This squander is incentivized by ICTii Corporations, which in their spasmodic research for infinite profit implemented a programmed obsolescence of their products that is increasingly widespread and imposing.

Agbobloshie, Accra, Ghana.

One of the young boys working in Agbobloshie made the landfill his home; he has built a shelter made of different types of scraps and wastes. Most part of the people who work in Agbobloshie are from rural Northern Ghana. To work in Agbobloshie they have to leave their families and their homes.


With the regime of the financialised governance, the laws that should prevent these kinds of human and ecologic disasters are planned in a way that leaves plenty of space to the interests of those who have economic power, public or private. It is quite a difference compared to the toughness applied to those laws made to keep migrant workers away from our postindustrial paradises.  The governance’s executive prefers by far that they stay in their homes, and then transforms those homes, into toxic rubbish dumps.

Strengthening and enforcing insufficient international laws would thwart massive profits. Disposing of a PC by sending it to a dumpster in Africa costs $2, while it would cost $20 to sustainably recycle it. Those $18 are split between those apparently respectable operators from the north and their equivalent mobsters from the south. The connivance and complementarity between lawful capitals and capitals linked to the Mafia, in some countries of southern Europe, is reproduced on a world’s scale…


In the peripheral regions of the world,

the forms of capital accumulation and

Mafia-like organizations represent an

essential means of insertion in the

international division of labor.


According to economists that are not

subserviced to the mainstream finance

“in the end, cognitive capitals and

capitals linked to the mafia find their

true unity in the innate opacity of

financial markets where any distinction  disappears”iii. Providing additional evidence that the exploitation has the same matrix in building and in destroying…


Delhi process 10.000 to 20.000 tons of

e-waste per year with nearly 25.000 workers, mostly children.

Ghana imports around 215.000 tonnes of secondhands consumer electronics from abroad (primarily Western Europe) and generates another 129.000 tons of e-waste every year.

In developing countries the eco-mafia is taking charge of rare and non-renewable resources. And is contributing to the ecological crisis with e-waste. In both cases we are talking about expropriation of the common, both regarding the devastation of land and the exploitation that confines with enslavement, and have seen the precarious life conditions of those who work in such an inferno.


The disturbing paradox is having before you, the tangible results of the rough materialization of the roles’ division in the global economy. The finance’s oligarchy gets the shares for intellectual property, immaterial production or bio-hypermedia devices, the multitudes of the “damnés de la terre”, get the enslavement into technologic dumpsters that invade their ecosystem making it sterile and toxic.

E-waste territories, 300 tons of radioactive water poured into Fukushima’s ocean every day, lands in decay ravaged by fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to extract oil and gas from shale: there is no breaking in the dangers of today’s capitalistic model. Through the network, the dominant machine of economic rationale is accelerating the rhythm of destruction of the biosphere.


When will it stop?

Lian River, Guiyu, China.

A branch of the Lian River, a minor river that flows into the South China Sea. Here, every night, huge piles of electrical and electronic waste, together with other waste derived from the manufacture (another business very present in this region) are accumulated on the banks of the river and are set on fire.

These wastes are the last link in the chain, the result of all the processes of cannibalization and recycling. From these materials is no longer possible to extract anything that has a value, then are burned in the open air thus creating serious pollution problems for air and the surrounding waterways.


BIT ROT Project is the result of work conducted by freelance photographer Valentino Bellini.

Home page text by Giorgio Griziotti and Gianluca Giannelli.

Translations by Laura De Francesco.

Valentino Bellini, +39 3286886891

© Valentino Bellini

2013 All rights reserved