16 May 2018

East Africa: Why East Africans Should Tap Into e-Waste Industry

opinion

Regional countries must be wiser and not quickly dispose of their tonnes of electric and electronic waste, often called e-waste, as it - despite being a health and environmental hazard - is a multibillion dollar business, according to an expert.

In search for ways to implement a sustainable e-waste management strategy, Dr Alice A. Kaudia, Environment Secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Environment and Forestry, stressed, "a win-win solution is possible" even when it is foreign investors to buy and recycle the region's waste.

The minerals in discarded and recycled e-waste such as gold and all the rare precious stones are worth billions of dollars that can benefit regional economies, she told The New Times.

She emphasised the same during the opening of a regional workshop on sustainable e-waste management in the EAC.

Kaudia said that regional countries need to be smart and avoid losses in a phenomenon she termed as "urban mining", whereby a foreign investor would come, take all e-waste from East Africa, cheaply and go recycle it and gain far more than the region.

"The question is: where will all the gold and numerous components of rare precious stones in the e-waste go? A good plan is when investors ensure we have a good partnership, which is mutually beneficial to the investor and EAC partner states," she said.

"It would mean the value chain of e-waste management clearly stipulates how we use various products from recovery and recycling process and ensure that the absolute e-waste doesn't remain a problem to our countries."

Absolute e-waste, she explained, is that type that cannot be recycled at all during the later process.

"There is need to ensure that the highly valuable components are retained and put to use by partner states. Even if it means the investor exports them, then the income we get should be shared in a manner that really benefits partner states equally."

Kaudia's view is shared by reports indicating that minerals obtained from recycled e-waste are worth billions of dollars. Last December, a UN-backed study revealed that a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes was generated globally in 2016 -- up 3.3 metric tonnes, or eight per cent from 2014.

As reported, the 44.7 million metric tonnes is the equivalent of 4.500 Eiffel Towers, or 1.23 million fully loaded 18-wheel 40-tonne trucks, according to the report from the UN's International Telecommunication Union, the UN University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association.

It is reported that experts foresee a further 17 per cent increase -- to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021, -- the fastest growing part of the world's domestic waste stream.

At least 20 per cent of all that e-waste generated in 2016 was recycled, according to reports.

It is also reported that the estimated value of recoverable materials in last year's e-waste was $64.6 billion, which is more than the 2016 GDP of most countries in the world.

According to the UN report, what was discarded, and quite often, in an improper manner, in dumpsites or in incinerators, contained rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium, cobalt, and other high-value recoverable materials in much of the e-waste.

The three-day workshop in Kigali is, among others, considering ways how of to implement the bloc's e-waste management strategy, which was finalised last July.

The novel regional strategy targets having at least one modern regional e-waste facility by 2022.

Kaudia told The New Times that this will take time as such facilities don't come cheap. Instead of waiting for donor funding, she suggested, the six EAC governments should put it in their budgets and make it e-waste a reality.

The workshop is organised by Kigali-based East African Communications Organisation (EACO), in collaboration with Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).

According to Dr Ally Yahaya Simba, EACO's Executive Secretary, a 2014 survey by the UN Environment Agency estimated that Kenya generates about 44,000 tonnes of e-waste per year, Tanzania 45,000 tonnes, Uganda 25,000 tonnes, Burundi 9,000 tonens, and Rwanda more than 10,000 tonnes.

He admitted that relying on old statistics is a great hindrance when it comes to planning for sustainable management of e-waste in the region.

"The challenge of e-waste management in our region is enormous and cannot be tackled by our governments alone. It calls for concerted efforts of all stakeholders in the e-waste management value chain," Dr Simba said.

EACO is working on establishing its own statistics.

E-waste includes anything with a plug or a battery: things like refrigerators, televisions, solar panels, mobile phones, and computers, to name just a few, found in nearly all urban and rural homes.

The July 2017 regional e-waste management strategy spells out priority strategies along with specific actions to manage e-waste in member countries as the latter look to achieve a zero negative impact of e-waste by 2030.

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