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How African e-waste could reduce poverty

November 27, 2017

(Copyright: Daily Nation)

With vast amounts of electrical devices being dumped in Africa, a recent article in the Daily Nation calls for e-waste to be put to good use.

As Juliette Biao writes, in this increasingly technological era, where electronics manufacturing “is now the world’s largest and fastest growing industry”, the waste it generates is now being “viewed through a new and innovative lens”.

Electronic devices which have been thrown into landfill can still have a variety of applications. Many of them contain “up to 60 different chemical elements”, among them copper, tin, cobalt, silver, gold and palladium, many of which have “economic value”. The presence of these metals “makes e-waste a tradable commodity and a source for job creation and poverty reduction in Africa.”

With so much electronic waste being dumped on the continent (Ghana alone generated 179,000 tons in 2009), there is potential for vast sums of money to be made through adequate recycling measures. The problem is that currently, the e-waste “usually ends up in landfills, which are poorly managed, if at all, or ill-equipped recycling facilities”.

This accumulation of waste causes a variety of problems, both environmental and health-based, with a study called “Recycling – From E-Waste to Resources”, published by Solving the E-Waste Problem and UN Environment, revealing that “the cumulated CO2 emissions associated with the primary production of metals used in the electrical and electronic industry accounts for an annual level of 23.4 million tons, almost 1/1000 of the world’s CO2 emissions.”

However, “only a fraction” of these emissions are created when metals are extracted from e-waste “using state-of-the-art recycling processes”, with the “specific emissions saved” being higher for precious metals.

Another concern is the fact that, in Africa, “e-waste recycling is performed by the informal and unorganised sector”, using “improper techniques” including open burning, which releases highly toxic pollutants into the air. Meanwhile, heavy metals leaching out of the electronic waste contaminate groundwater and cause severe health problems such as “damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood system and kidneys” and, in children, “developmental effects and loss of mental ability”.

Properly managed, Biao writes that “It is possible to turn the huge e-waste trash in Africa into cash and generate jobs and income opportunities for the urban poor, while reducing its negative environmental impacts”. But in order to achieve this, “feasible and practical ways to integrate the informal e-waste recycling sector […] into sound, sustainable e-waste management strategies” must be found.

Categories : Around the Industry

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