Turning Trash Into Technology

By Kevin Ritchart


As electronic waste in Africa continues to mount, one company has pioneered a method of creating 3D printers out of discarded phones, computers and other electronic devices.

The first African-made 3D printer was produced from e-waste in 2013 at WoeLab, a maker space located near the university in Lomé, the capital city of Togo in West Africa.

Large volumes of e-waste — 42 megatons per year — arrive from wealthier Western countries to places in Africa, India and China. Items like batteries, refrigerators and other equipment produce deadly carcinogenic toxins when burned, and less than one sixth of it is recycled or reused every year.

The Idea

Rather than burn the electronics and release hazardous materials into the atmosphere, WoeLab architect Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou came up with the idea to construct a 3D printer using little more than scrap printers, computers and scanners.


Agbodjinou had purchased a 3D printer for WoeLab, and then he and his colleagues decided to take a run at building one on their own from salvaged parts. After a year of effort, Agbodjinou and his team were successful.

“We wanted to see how we could build a new one but with our own resources,” Agbodjinou said.

Now almost five years later, WoeLab has produced twenty 3D printers and other companies in Africa are following suit.

Going High-Tech

Agbodjinou founded WoeLab in 2012 as a maker space to promote urban renewal, local sourcing and sustainable technology.

WoeLab and other similar organizations are pushing to make Africa a much more tech-centered continent, and that effort starts with innovation.

“The idea is that the African city of tomorrow will be built by our own innovation spaces,” Agbodjinou said.



To help foster technological learning in their nation’s youth, WoeLab is planning to place a 3D printer in every school within one kilometer of its facility.

“What we are concerned with is to try to create in the young people a confidence in themselves in their capacity to realize projects,” Agbodjinou said.

An Eye on the Future

The printers created by WoeLab can print objects up to 50 cubic centimeters in size. WoeLab now has a staff of 50 people working in two facilities, and there are 10 startup companies aimed at furthering tech-based projects, from the construction of robots and prosthetic limbs to waste reduction.

“We want to bring these technologies to Africa, and see how Africans can develop and understand them in an effort to create African possibilities,” Agbodjinou said.