Africa is rising to tackle e-waste that finds its way to these developing countries because according to the western countries, it is easier and cheaper to ship e-waste to Africa than to recycle at home as expected of them.
But this trend is set to change if the rest of the African countries follow the footsteps of Kenya and South Africa.
While recycling the valuable elements contained in e-waste such as gold and copper is a lucrative business for people in informal sector, it comes with immense and dangerous side effects to those directly handling the products as well as the environmental effects to soil, food, air and water. Some of the harmful materials connected to health risks among humans include lead, beryllium, arsenic, mercury, antinomy and cadmium. Additionally, there are risks of getting cut or hurt by the products when disassembling them for their valuable materials.
Learning from Kenya’s efforts to keep humans and environment safe and healthy
Reports say that Kenya is the only East African country and South Africa, the only in Southern Africa that have put up e-waste recycling plants to reduce the dangers posed by domestic waste as well as that coming in from the west. On the other hand, Uganda and Zambia have imposed a ban of imports on counterfeit electronics products whose lifecycle is almost expiring. This means that in other African countries especially North and West Africa, e-waste finds its way to the local dumpsites. Some of these products come into Africa as refurbished products whose lifecycle is dwindling, but since they are sold cheaply, unknowing citizens rush to purchase these products that soon die. Other waste products are exported as garbage but falsely labelled as ‘used-goods’ while in essence they are non-functional.
The establishment of East African Compliant Recycling (EACR) in Mombasa, Kenya in 2011, boosted country’s efforts towards e-waste management. This was in partnership with Camara Education. EACR became the first e-waste recycling facility operating to international health, safety and environmental standards and establishing a local, sustainable IT e-waste recycling industry.
In 2013, EACR officially opened a facility in Athi River Machackos County, located about an hour drive from the capital, Nairobi. The facility has been established to separate and dismantle e-waste in an environmentally-friendly way. Through established collection points across Kenya including Camara’s Hub in Mombasa, e-waste will be properly recycled and sold off to external markets.
This was made possible by some public private partnerships with Hewlett-Packard (HP), German development finance institution DEG and EACR. The facility and collection points are expected to provide informal jobs to thousands of collectors at various points in Kenya.
In 2014, EACR had collected and sold about $200 thousand of e-waste.
Dell, HP, Nokia, Phillips and the recycler Reclaimed Appliances (UK) Ltd have collaborated to establish E-waste Solutions Alliance for Africa which has been working with the government and key stakeholders to draft the principles and processes needed for responsible and viable collection and recycling of e-waste in the country.
South Africa’s e-waste management gets a push from Vaal University of Technology
In October 2015, Vaal University of Technology (VUT) Southern Gauteng Science and Technology Park campus in Sebokeng announced its plans to establish an e-waste recycling and management center within Sebokeng campus to deal with the astounding amount of toxic e-waste ending in landfills countrywide. This strategy according to the university will not only answer to the waste management concerns but also provide training, awareness and employment to the residents.
Universities, being heavy consumers of electronic gadgets as well as producers of e-waste, should be at the forefront creating solutions to the looming challenge in Africa. Moreover, these institutions will attract governmental and non-governmental partners to expand such projects.
The e-Waste Association of South Africa (eWASA) which was established in 2008 has been able to manage the establishment of a sustainable environmentally sound e-waste management system for the country, and has played a key role in minimizing hazards caused by poor management of electronic and electrical waste.
The Basel convention, an international treaty established in 1992, was put in place in order for countries to endeavor to minimize the production of hazardous waste, and invest in providing comprehensive domestic waste management. It also goes further to try and control transboundary movement of e-waste. Basel Convention bars countries from exporting e-waste for disposal in other countries unless the exporting country has no means to dispose them safely.
The convention allows electrical items destined for legitimate reuse to be exported by providing a set of criteria to distinguish the two (between e-waste and electrical items). This however, has been a loophole used by those involved in the illegal trafficking. These criteria call for: (i) a copy of the invoice and contract that relates to the sale or transfer of ownership of the equipment; (ii) a signed statement indicating the equipment is destined for reuse and a certificate proving that it has been tested and found to be fully functional; (iii) information on the end user or retailer the equipment is destined for; and (iv) a declaration by the transporter that the equipment is not e-waste.
Ghana’s calculated steps to e-waste management
Over the years, West Africa especially has been reported as the worst affected by the e-waste menace purely because the government and other stakeholders have not come in to regulate the management of e-waste.
Following the partnership between Ericsson and Airtel Ghana, the country is set to change through the recycle and disposal of e-wastes staggering in some dumpsites. The sustainable initiative, under the Ecology Management Product Take-Back program, is aimed at minimizing the potential environmental impact linked with the disposal of decommissioned electrical equipment. The partnership happened in December 2014.
The European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, requires manufacturers of electrical and electronic Equipment to exercise product take back as is dictated by law. Ericsson however, offers this program to all its customers globally as its Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility effort towards taking accountability for environmental impacts of all products and services during their lifecycle.
A partnership between MTN Benin and Ericsson saw the launch of an e-waste collection and awareness drive in Benin. MTN Côte d’Ivoire has also collaborated with Ericsson to provide awareness and collection of electronic waste in the country.
With such efforts, it is expected at least e-waste whether local or shipped will be safely, dismantled, recycled and disposed.
The world is over the next years expected to produce more than 90 million tons of e-waste as people adopt the use of tech items. Unfortunately, unlike other garbage, much of e-waste is non-biodegradable and have harmful consequences to human beings and the environment. It is only prudent for the manufacturing companies to clean up the mess they helped create in the first place.
Even as companies are rolling out “take back” programs, they should also seek to reduce or stop where possible the use of heavy metals and chemicals in these products.