There are superheroes in our midst, and they’re not wearing capes or costumes. They live in unassuming places, performing miracles with the most humble of tools. They bring ancient machinery rumbling back to life, fabricate new radiators from metal scraps, and repair minuscule circuitry with simple hand tools. They are brilliant hackers, tinkerers, mechanics and repair technicians, transforming our unwanted junk into coveted treasures — genius “fixers” with a preternatural ability to rip apart a piece of hardware and give it a new soul.
Fixers are doing more than repairing things. They are the solution to an environmental problem poisoning our planet. Electronics recyclers illegally import hundreds of millions of tons of e-waste into Asia and Africa every year. Though seemingly harmless, our used gadgets contain deadly chemicals, including mercury, arsenic, lead and brominated flame retardants. Developing countries lack the resources to dispose of these products properly, and scrapworkers mine them for raw materials using crude, toxic techniques.
By repairing and reusing our broken hardware, fixers are the last line of defense against the ever-increasing flood of hazardous electronics waste pouring into third-world countries. We’ll take you into their workshops, where they work wonders with basic hand tools, soldering irons, and a little ingenuity.
We’ve journeyed through the slums of Kibera, the electronics scrapyards of Delhi, and Cairo’s infamous Garbage City, and we’ll be revealing how and why fixers do what they do — their tips and tricks of the trade, life stories and philosophies.
Home to some of the most developed informal industry in Africa, Cairo hosts a bevy of automotive and electronics repair people. The pyramid-building Egyptian ingenuity is famous worldwide, a spirit that lives on today. On the streets of Cairo, brilliant engineers are forced to do things in creative and clever ways without much money. We filmed some of their stories.
Our recent trip to New Delhi, full of enormous electronics scrapyards and innumerable second-hand electronics repair shops, was simply a scouting trip. Though we didn’t take any video footage in Delhi this trip, we took hundreds of photos of repair shops and e-waste workers.
Kenyans are better at hacking and innovating with next to no tools than anyone else on the planet. Nairobi repair folks are phenomenal, even though they have the fewest tools, resources, and education.
Like Kenya, Ghana has a burgeoning second-hand electronics market, made possible by hordes of self-trained repair people. However, Ghana is also where many used electronics go to die: in the waste dump of Agbogbloshie, workers take apart all kinds of defunct devices, breaking them down into their component parts and burning circuit boards to collect the precious metals inside—a process that releases toxic fumes.