In Agbogbloshie, a commercial district in Accra, Ghana, around 10,000 of the poorest people in the country sort through much of the world’s electronic waste. With no other way of making a living, they use crude methods to dismantle electronic devices—burning them or dousing them in acid—which expose them to toxic emissions and substances that often lead to acute and long-term health problems. In 2014, Agbogbloshie was deemed one of the 10 most polluted places on Earth, with lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium found in the air, water and soil at concentrations 100 times higher than safe levels.
Agbogbloshie has a reputation as an e-waste hellhole, but there’s more to its story. In 2013, D.K. Osseo-Asare, an assistant professor of architecture and engineering design at Penn State, and his colleague Yasmine Abbas, a French architect and strategic designer, launched the