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E-Waste Management: A Bid Towards a Safer Africa

According to Green experts, a computer alone contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead, and along with other electronic devices, contributes two-fifths of all lead in landfills.

Underground leaching of these toxic compounds results in biodiversity loss and contaminates the ground water.  If burned the waste produce unhealthy emissions causing air pollution and skin irritation.  Informal recycle activities expose e-waste recyclers to variety of harmful substances including lead, hexavalent chromium, phthalates, and brominated flame-retardants, though critical in the operation of e- products the chemicals can cause health complications.

Did you ever wonder where your old or damaged phone, computer, refrigerator, office printers, and scanners disappear to as we upgrade to new models?  Well these items are lying in our homes, offices, or repair shops.  Lack of manufacturer’s follow up once the product sold, has left the consumer with the whole burden of containg the e- waste.

Figure 2 pile of obsolete phones: image source Pexels.com

Beyond the daily innovations and the consumer’s need to keep abreast with the new technology, third world countries import huge containers of  second hand e- products owing to their cheap price compared to brand new ones.

However, cheap is expensive.  Some dead on arrival, and the surviving holds a lifespan of two to three years.

The huge Electric and Electronic Equipment (EEE) waste eventually ends up in unhealthy recycle sectors like the Juakali industry, or in landfills once, they are beyond repair.  Improper disposal pollutes the environment and endangers life.

Ghana is major importer of second hand e-products, with its capital characterized by a network of repair shops that attempt to tap into the full potential of e-waste, through re- utilization, reuse, and recycle.  However, the economically attractive activities have turned Ghana into an enormous electronic waste dumpsite.

A study of Agbogbloshie inhabitants, an Accra suburb, revealed high lead contents in the blood samples of the inhabitants, and above threshold amounts of iron, lead, and antimony in the urine samples of waste boys.  Scientists speculate the heavy metals presence to fish and seafood, which are the major diets of the inhabitants.  Analysis of breastmilk revealed high amount of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), highly toxic compounds found in old electrical appliances.

Agbogbloshie closure attempts by the government remain futile in fear of spreading the activity to several other locations.  “If Agbogbloshie is ultimately dismantled, there’s a danger that many other depots will be created — smaller one spread out across Ghana.”

In Kenya, importation of old e- products is discouraged, with a 25 percent excise duty on imported refurbished computers.  Nevertheless, it remains a major importer of ICT products in east Africa.  Old and refurbished e-products also find their way into the country as donations to schools, community and government institutions.

In 2010, UNEP estimated an annual e-waste generation in Kenya at 11,400 tones from refrigerators, 2,800 tones from TVs, 2,500 tones from personal computers, 500 tones from printers and 150 tones from mobile phones.  By 2014, the total annual e-waste was at 44,000 tones.  The amount of e-waste is likely to increase with the dynamics in the ICT industry and huge demands of ICT equipment.

Figure 3 ICT products image courtesy Pexels.com

Challenges in e-waste management in Kenya

To start with, there is lack of proper legal framework, infrastructure, and policy to govern recycling, refurbishment and disposal of e-waste.  The e-waste draft Bill of 2013 remains stuck in Parliament for more than five years, despite the increasing volume of waste.  Informal sectors hence manage the waste under unregulated environments without proper regard for the safety of the people involved and the effect on the environment.

Lack of proper disposal mechanism, a take back scheme by  communication service provider, safaricom was unfruitful, due to lack of collection centers, public unawareness and lack of  incentives.

Procurement and Disposal Act that governs disposal of goods and services in public institutions does not consider the end of-life effects of electric and electronic equipment (EEE) procured.  The institution ends up relying on bond and competitive tenders for disposal EEE as scrap in line with procurement procedures.  The process is slow and huge obsolete e- products remain in the institutions.  Few e- waste management organizations exists.

Prospects in legalized E- waste management

E-waste recycling towards Green computing is a major outlook for Africa.  Advanced countries have achieved in e-waste management despite high consumption of e -products.  In Singapore, there are established guidelines to help companies recycle their waste and only small amounts end up in disposal facilities.  A comprehensive recycling system and ICT policies to support the establishment of e-waste plants will go a long way in saving the developing countries from the menace of e-waste.  Reclaimed Precious metals like gold, silver, and copper from e-waste can be of valuable use.  Recycling also reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products.

A linear economy is no longer viable with the growing population and a circular economy is necessary to achieve sustainability (Daily Nation, Tuesday, 12 March 2019).  Conducting life cycle assessment of e-products before entry into the country will ensure continual improvement of the EEE hence saves on the natural resources and ultimately curb pollution.

 Let us make the planet a safer home, reduce e-waste, save life!

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