Dar es Salaam — Managing electronic waste (e-waste) is still a challenge in Tanzania as technology is poor, funds and personnel are inadequate and stakeholders are not really committed to tackling the matter.
Numerous efforts by the government and environment stakeholders to address the challenge are yet to bear fruit since the awareness is low, The Citizen can report.
E-waste is the end-of-use or end-life of electronic products, components and peripherals such as computers, fax machines, phones, personal digital assistants, radios and TV of which if not appropriately handled, can destroy the environment and jeopardise people's health.
E-waste causes respiratory problems, oxidative stress, DNA damage and the possibility of causing cancer to the human beings.
The Citizen has interviewed a number of people and has gone through documents regarding e-waste management.
It has established that challenges are among individuals, families, institutions and even the government.
Individual and family levels
Mr Abdallah Khamis, 29, recalls what happened in 2014 when he threw an old, obsolete phone along Nyegezi Corner Road in Mwanza after he bought a smartphone.
He did it with joy, but that was an e-waste.
It became a habit for him whenever he bought a new phone to simply throwing the old one, until in 2017 when he met his friend Peter Kondo at Vingunguti in Dar es Salaam, who advised him to start selling them to mobile phone technicians.
The same happens to Mary Kayondo, 32, a resident of Gongo la Mboto. She sometimes gives broken phones to her children as playthings.
"Not only broken phones, but also irons, radio sets or TV. I give them to children as toys until they get lost."
She throws into garbage bins other electric devices which seem dangerous to children. They are later collected for transport to dumpsites.
However, her husband Peter Yohana, 37, has started taking them to technicians for repairs or sale if they are irreparable.
The Citizen also established that the management of e-wastes is poor as people are unaware of how they can be disposed of or recycled.
Electronic device technicians
Mr Emmanuel Msengi is a mobile phone technician at the corner of Aggrey and Likoma streets in Kariakoo. He buys such devices cheaply and takes their parts for sale. "Chinese buy sachets, claiming that there are some minerals such as aluminium," he said.
He earns Sh2,500 a kilo of sachets while for Nokia feature phone he gets Sh250 from sachets.
"I also take other parts like batteries and screens if they are fine and throw other parts into garbage bins before transported to Pugu Kijungeni for dumping."
He is also not aware of the side-effects of mobile phone waste.
A technician for computers, refrigerator and printers at Machinga Complex, Mr Godlisten Maimu, also takes some parts of electronic devices and throws the remaining useless parts into garbage bins.
However, OK Plast Tanzania Limited assistant director Siki Magoha, who specialises in e-waste, is concerned about the situation.
"Technologically, Tanzania is incapable of recycling batteries and electronic items. They contain minerals such as copper, silver, gold and sometimes hazardous gases," he said.
"They are thus, packaged and transported to technologically developed countries. Tanzania's capacity is restricted to recycling parts with plastic in nature."
He said usually, Tanzania cooperated with German and Belgian firms during the transportation and dismantling of batteries and mother bodies to foreign countries.
"After packaging, the Vice President's Office is consulted for inspection to ensure that all safety precautions have been considered," he said.
According to him, the Vice President's Office (VPO) signs some papers and issues transboundary forms that provide legal approval for transportation of wastes to designated countries.
A recent report by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) has outlined hurdles in the production, collection, transportation, dismantling and disposal of e-waste, which spoils the environment and threatens lives of people.
Report findings show that Tanzania does not have regulations and guidelines on e-waste management.
Worse enough, e-waste issues are not enshrined in local authorities' bye-laws.
An audit carried out in Mbeya, Tanga, Arusha, Mwanza City councils and Kinondoni, Ilala and Temeke municipal councils revealed that no e-waste issue was addressed in the by-laws.
The report also shows lack of funds, adequately trained personnel, equipment, proper disposal facilities, and that the so-called strategic plans were unrealistic, lacking proper record keeping, awareness and capacity building in addressing the problem.
Again, e-waste activities have limited sharing of information, poor monitoring and evaluation including limited inspection, use of unregistered dealers, weak reporting of licensed companies and local authorities, inadequate feedback and evaluation management.
Tanzania also lacks mechanisms to support sustainable growth of e-waste management and that existing legal and institutional frameworks had no full support to effective management of e-waste.
Regarding the funding of e-waste activities, the CAG audit found that Tanzania hasn't adopted the framework for funding developed by the United Nations Environment Programme, and as such local authorities allocated no funds for such activities.
Human resource is another challenge as the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) was found to have only five members of staff whose duty was to execute e-waste-related jobs all over the country.
"However, out of the five, only two of them received formal training on e-waste and attended workshops organised by TCRA [Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority] and other stakeholders," reads the CAG report.
In addition, the audit found that local authorities had inadequate equipment and lacked protective gear for e-waste handlers.
It was also observed that even general dumpsites had no fence and that safety signs were missing, increasing threats to people's health and the environment.
Regarding strategies of minimising or managing e-waste, the audit report found that the VPO and NEMC strategies were unrealistic, having no formal systems of recording the amount of e-waste generated, collected and disposed in a specific period of time.
CAG concludes that despite efforts to improve the state of the environment, the government has failed to effectively manage the state of e-waste in the country.
Despite entering into several international agreements on hazardous waste management, the government has no important instruments and strategies for managing e-waste to minimise its impacts on the environment and human health.
Specifically, the audit concludes that there was a need for NEMC and local authorities to improve their e-waste management through increased allocations of funds, human resources capacity building and provision of equipment to e-waste handlers.
The audit showed that there was a need to improve record-keeping in terms of the amount of e-waste generated, collected, transported, dismantled, recycled and disposed.
Policies to combat e-waste
Tanzania has no specific policy or regulation related to e-waste management.
However, there are a number of policies and regulations which aim at protecting the environment and human health.
Such policies are National Environment Policy (1997), the Sustainable Industrial Policy (1996) and National ICT Policy (2016).
As things stand, the report established that the preparation of e-waste working instruments was not participatory, and TCRA is being blamed for preparing the documents alone without involving other stakeholders.
There are no coordinated efforts to collect and disseminate e-waste statistics in the country.
So far, however, the National Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the VPO, which is responsible for the environment in Tanzania, have started putting efforts on capacity building for data management on e-waste.
This initiative aims at bridging the data and information gap on e-waste issues.
To combat the problem, the CAG recommends that NEMC and local authorities to set appropriate policies, bills, regulations and guidelines for stakeholders' use.
Also, recruiting trained personnel to deal with e-waste issues and establish the database that will manage the operations and tracking the amount of e-waste generated, collected and disposed in a particular time. Establishing disposal centres and lowering costs of registration to attract more entrepreneurs who are willing to engage in the e-waste management business, according to CAG audit report.
It was also recommended that NEMC establish and operate a central environmental information system for sharing information with stakeholders.
"NEMC should also update the inspection manual and consider including e-waste-related issues in the manual and that local authorities should update their environmental by-laws to address e-waste management and minimisation activities," reads report.
NEMC has been making efforts to address the challenges but it is still far away to achieving their goal, according to its acting director general Vedast Makota.
"We convened a meeting to deliberate the way forward following the CAG recommendations contained in the 2017/18 report so that we can address the problem," he said, declining to give detailed information. Meanwhile, environmentalists say developing countries have become toxic dump yards of e-waste.
Developing countries receiving foreign e-waste often go further to repair and recycle forsaken equipment. Yet still 90 per cent of e-waste ended up in landfills in developing countries in 2003.
Proponents of international trade point to the success of fair trade programs in other industries, where cooperation has led to creation of sustainable jobs and can bring affordable technology in countries where repair and reuse rates are higher.
Defenders of the trade[who?] in used electronics say that the extraction of metals from virgin mining has been shifted to developing countries. Recycling of copper, silver, gold, and other materials from discarded electronic devices is considered better for the environment than mining.
They also state that repair and reuse of computers and televisions has become a "lost art" in wealthier nations and that refurbishing has traditionally been a path to development.
South Korea, Taiwan, and southern China all excelled in finding "retained value" in used goods, and in some cases have set up billion-dollar industries in refurbishing used ink cartridges, single-use cameras, and working cathode ray tubes.