The New Times (Kigali)

2 February 2013

Rwanda: Electronic Waste Clogging Government Institutions

Photo: Natalie Behring/Greenpeace
Electronic waste.

Electronic waste (e-Waste) is becoming a serious challenge as more and more used electronic equipment is lying idle in various institutions in the country.

Presently, there is no policy or measures on how e-Waste is controlled in Rwanda despite the draft policy that has already been developed by various government entities.

Nevertheless, fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the globe has become a concern as countries struggle to seek ways to discard obsolete electronics.

They include discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment electronic equipment, mobile phones and other home appliances like television sets and refrigerators among others.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Sylvie Mukunde Mboyo, the director of ICT at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), said that the institution is facing a serious challenge of failing to get where to safely dispose of discarded electronic equipment.

"However, much as we try to auction them to the public, they still remain piled up. We are looking for ways of how to recycle or destroy them in a manner that is friendly to the environment," she added.

Most of the electronics contain hazardous components that can be very dangerous and pollute underground water if they are not properly disposed of, according to environmentalists.

In Rwanda, there is a growing number of personal computers, TV screens and fridges among others, in institutions, households and business facilities with tremendous growth of the telecommunication sector, which comes with all sorts of gargets.

Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT, said that indeed it's a challenge that needs urgent attention.

"The draft policy on e-Waste was concluded and it's ready to be submitted to the Prime Minister's Office before it is presented to Cabinet. The bill proposes clear rules to promote national policy objectives and manage e-Waste in a sustainable manner," he said.

"We are really working and definitely committed to ensure that the law on e-Waste is in place before the end of June."

However, Nsengimana observed that the draft policy has some loopholes, especially regarding turning e-Waste from being hazardous to productive.

"In the policy, turning electronic waste into productive assets for business is not tackled because the Swedish experts who drafted the policy took the best practices from Sweden which are not necessarily in line with best practices in developing countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh where you find that people have been able to harness electronic waste into business productive assets that are friendly to the environment," he explained.

Regarding exempting imported ICT equipment from import duty, the minister noted that not all ICT equipment is exempted from import duty.

"We need to look at the latest list containing the electronic equipment that is tax-free and the criteria used to exempt some of the equipment from taxes. For instance, there are the latest gadgets on the market that have not been updated on the list, which might be paying import duty to enter the country," the minister said.

He also stated that there is a ministerial order preventing Rwanda from becoming a dumpsite of IT equipment from other countries.

Apart from KIST, the National University of Rwanda (NUR), the country's oldest institution, is crying foul of the same concern of discarded electronic equipment.

"We no longer have a store for the old electronics that are of no use. Our store is full, we have tried to look for market for them, but they are still many at the campus," said Jean Bosco Ndushabandi, the deputy director of ICT at NUR.

He stated that, they have sent students abroad to study mechanisms of proper e-Waste management in order to address the challenge.

When we contacted Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) for a comment, the Director General, Rose Mukankomeje, told this newspaper that her institution is concerned with the environmental effects of e-wastes.

"In 2011 REMA conducted a study on the e-Waste status in Rwanda. The survey served as a basis for knowing the magnitude in the country and a source of information for the development of subsequent regulations, including an e-Waste policy," she noted.

"REMA partners with other institutions in finding solutions to electronic waste problems, especially in the prevention of e-Waste importation in the country."

Most of the e-waste items contain heavy metals like carbon-zinc, silver-oxide, lithium batteries, nickel-cadmium, zinc batteries and nickel-metal hydride among others.

The most common practices adopted for disposal of e-Waste are acid baths, land filling and open-air burning. When electronic equipment is burnt, it releases dangerous fumes hazardous to the environment.

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