The current wave of globalization has been made possible by the advancement in technology and the sophistication of devices that have aided it. All that has, however, come at a cost; countries are yet to come up with solutions on how to treat and handle obsolete electric devices and equipment. The demand for electric devices is rising sharply. The big issue with the demand, though, is that there is no known way of proper disposal once the devices have been rendered useless. It is for this reason that recent studies have shown an ever-rising amount of electronic waste in the Americas and Europe. While recycling has been found to be expensive and potentially hazardous, a new way to get rid of the waste has been found – dumping it in Africa. Technology: Managing Electronic Waste For A Safer Environment
Each year, the global electronics industry generates an excess of 40 million tons of waste as it struggles to meet the demand for electronic devices. Consumers consistently prefer new devices to stay in touch with the rapidly diversifying global technological arena. This has then translated to a sharp rise in electronic waste as old generation devices are rendered dysfunctional. Environmental ‘concerns’ have then pushed most European countries and the US – the biggest users of electronic devices- to engage in unorthodox waste disposal methods by exploiting loopholes in African ports’ import and export policies to smuggle waste into the continent.
West African countries have been the heaviest recipients of electronic waste. The United Nations Environmental Program research established that electronic waste worth more than 19 billion dollars is injected into various parts of West Africa by smugglers from Europe and America. Dumping it in Africa is a cheaper alternative for the west as compared to the costly procedures involved in their recycling.
One such dumpsite for Electronic waste in West Africa is Ghana’s Agbogbloshie which is located in the heart of Accra. The 20-acre dump site has been the heaviest recipient of e-waste from most developed countries. A recent revelation by the Guardian outlaid the shocking status of the dumping from techno-obsessed countries. It is not yet clear who could be responsible for procuring the release of the wastes and used electronics from the ports but the critical thing is that the health risks posed by the burning and attempts to recycle them, manually, are infinite.
The Guardian revealed mountains of obsolete electronics and mountains of smoke from the burning of the electronic waste at Agbobloshie. People are living in close quarters with the dumpsite and many youths have taken it upon themselves to wake up every day and scour the dumpsite for valuables including copper and electric wires.
The burning of the waste and unprotected handling exposes those in proximity to lead, mercury and brominate flames. Toxic carcinogens from burning also cause air pollution. It is this exposure to carcinogens that has been the x-factor as far as the frequent cases of people succumbing to cancer in their 20s is concerned. Check out What really happens to old computers sent to Ghana? by The Smithsonian Mag.
While UNEP also finds that some of the waste at Agblobloshie is generated from within and around West Africa, the problem of waste import and trade cannot be overlooked. It has been established that some West Africans are engaging in waste trading as a full-time enterprise. This has been one of the areas that have fully been exploited by developed countries where rogue techno-companies either bring in the cargo for free or at a fee to cover travel expenses and other logistics. Accountability and strict oversight at African entrance ports will help, in many ways, end this issue.
While West Africa has been the primary recipient of electronic waste partly due to its proximity to the developed nations, the rest of the African continent has been the victim as techno-thirsty nations move in subterranean fashion to smuggle devices that are barely functional and cannot be sold.
Fridges, computers and used phones have been the primary commodities. Online shopping sites have also been avenues for the dumping of waste. Online shoppers interact with their prospective clients from far and wide. The cheap items acquired last for a very short period and have to be disposed of.
Kenya’s techno-hungry population has also meant the country has unrelenting problems with e-waste. Most of the waste is brought into the country in the form of cheap electronic appliances like computers from Asia as well as Europe and America. These appliances become dysfunctional after a very short period and have to be disposed of.
Kenya lacks the capacity to dispose of most of her e-waste and this has led to the careless disposal in water catchment areas and potentially productive lands. The e-waste draft Bill of 2013 has been around for 5 years but has never been passed into law. The Daily Nation reports that the e-waste problem is a ticking time bomb in the country. The remotely functional Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment is among the very few registered companies dealing with e-waste in the country.
As one of the fastest developing countries in the world, Egypt has also had problems with the immense output of e-waste by her techno-hungry population. Most of the electronic waste is from within the country but Egypt also imports heavily from Russia, Germany and China. Recycling has been used to reduce waste. The Egyptian Electronics Recycling Company has been, by far, the most effective institution in dealing with waste in the country.
Southern Africa has also been adversely affected by improper e-waste disposal. This is mostly due to her increasing development that has been marked by advancements in technology. South Africa has made the most meaningful developments to curb the rising concern of e-wastes. The e-Waste Association of South Africa [eWASA] was established in 2008 to establish sustainable e-waste management mechanisms. Slow progress has been realized since the inception because of the ever-increasing demand for electronic products. It is projected that, with proper policies, eWASA will be able to address the problem fully by 2027.
The US has made efforts to curb the export of electronic waste under the ‘Plug-in to eCycling’ program but the biggest loophole is that any company can export waste as long as the waste is labelled ‘for recycle.’ Whether the program is legitimate or just a smokescreen is yet to be established but it is by far only meaningful attempt to address the dumping of electronic waste in Africa; The numerous UNEP sanctions on environmental violations notwithstanding.
Here is what you can do in terms of your own e-waste –