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Kenya takes the lead in East Africa to handle e-Waste

 InDepth News 13 September 2019

Kenya is expected become the first country in East Africa to develop regulations on the management of electronic waste (e-waste), with a view to minimizing the impacts of the unsafe disposal of electronic products on public health and the environment. (968 Words) - By Jerome Mwanda


The issue was discussed at a workshop in Nairobi on September 7, joined by representatives of Kenya's Ministry for the Environment Ministry, the country's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), software giant Microsoft, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the telecommunications industry.

They considered common ways forward in dealing with e-waste management in line with the Basel Convention and other international frameworks and came to the conclusion that there was an urgent need to identify and map the environmental impact of e-waste on Kenya as a national priority. Experts also discussed the capacity constraints hindering the disposal of e-waste as well as the collection system and recycling infrastructure.

UNEP hosts the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Under the Convention, inventories and national management plans are being developed in Africa to improve the collection, repair, refurbishment and recovery of e-waste.

E-waste comprises old electronic items such as computers, printers, mobile phones, refrigerators and televisions. As a result of an increasing demand for electronic goods in Kenya and elsewhere in the developing world, levels of e-waste are growing fast. The hazardous substances such as heavy metals contained in most of these discarded products are posing a serious risk to the environment and to human health.

A recent baseline study conducted by the Kenyan Information Communications and Technology Network, found out that Kenya generates 3,000 tons of electronic waste per year, and that quantity is expected to rise as demand for electronic goods grows.

Worldwide, e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year. Much of the world's e-waste is received by China, India and Pakistan.

But, according to experts, e-waste also presents an economic opportunity through the recycling and refurbishing of discarded electronic goods and the harvesting of the precious metals they contain. Innovation and technology can also play a role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, green growth and assisting with climate change challenges, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper told the gathering.

However, given the increased pace of technological development and obsolescence, many appliances have a short life-expectancy and require sound re-use, recycling and disposal solutions. Dumping or improper recycling of electronic waste causes serious environmental contamination, and while electronic goods are mostly used in the developed world, many end up in developing countries.

"Raising recycling rates and re-using valuable metals and components, as well as increasing safe waste management and its regulation, is critical if countries and businesses are to transform mountains of e-waste into an asset", said Cropper.

Microsoft's Regional Education Manager for East and Southern Africa, Mark Matunga, said concerted efforts were required in e-waste management, and that has proved to be a challenge to many African countries.

"Kenya, like most Africa countries has no polices and strategies for dealing with e-waste and therefore its population is greatly exposed to health hazards that are associated with e-waste", said Matunga. At present, Kenya has no specific laws relating directly to e-waste. The government-backed recommendations produced at the Nairobi meeting could pave the way towards the first legislation in East Africa on e-waste management.

UNEP pointed out at the workshop in Nairobi that it has been conducting extensive research on e-waste and had launched a landmark report, 'Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources', in February 2010. The report examined e-waste in 11 developing countries, including Kenya.

The 11 countries have been grouped into three categories. Group A comprising Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Peru is classified as promising for the introduction of innovative preprocessing technologies with a strong support in capacity building.

Group B, comprising India and China, is classified as having a significant potential for the introduction of pre- and end-processing technologies with a strong support in capacity building in the informal sector.

Group C including South Africa, Morocco, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil is classified as having a significant potential to adapt pre- and to some extent end-processing technologies to their own needs, following a technology and knowledge exchange.

According to the study, the appropriate handling of e-waste can both prevent serious environmental damage and also recover valuable materials, especially for metals. The recycling chain for e-waste is categorized into three main subsequent steps: (i) collection, (ii) sorting/dismantling and preprocessing (including sorting, dismantling and mechanical treatment) and (iii) endprocessing.´

Throughout this study prepared within the 'Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative' the focus lies on a consistent set of different types of metals (ferrous and non-ferrous metals) such as aluminium (Al), copper (Cu), palladium (Pd) and gold (Au).

Toxic and hazardous elements are present in e-waste, which are partially drivers for the implementation of sound collection and treatment processes. Therefore in the discussion of recycling technologies, the need for proper handling and treatment of such harmful elements to prevent environmental or health impact is stressed.

Furthermore, the use and generation of toxic/hazardous substances during e-waste processing (for example, a mercury-gold amalgam or combined dioxins from inappropriate incineration) is critically evaluated with respect to the sustainability criteria for innovative technologies.

The backdrop to e-waste management is that over the last decades the electronics industry has revolutionized the world: electrical and electronic products have become ubiquitous of today's life around the planet.

Without these products, modern life would not be possible in (post-)industrialized and industrializing countries. These products serve in such areas as medicine, mobility, education, health, food supply, communication, security, environmental protection and culture. Such appliances include many domestic devices like refrigerators, washing machines, mobile phones, personal computers, printers, toys and TVs.

Originally published by InDepth News. ©

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