West Africa swamped with e-waste
By BiztechAfrica – Feb. 12, 2012, 7:17 a.m.
West Africa is facing a growing tide of electronic waste, both from domestic consumption and imports, says a UN report.
The report, Where are WEEE in Africa?, which was prepared by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, looked at the situation in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria.
It found these countries generate up to 1,000,000 tons of domestic e-waste each year. Domestic consumption accounts for around 85% of the waste problem. The report found that while theuse of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions of the world, it is growing at a staggering pace.
The report said the problem is exacerbated by industrialized countries importing used equipment which often proves to be unsuitable for re-use and end up being discarded.
“Effective management of the growing amount of e-waste generated in Africa and other parts of the world is an important part of the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy”, said United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary General Achim Steiner.
“We can grow Africa’s economies, generate decent employment and safeguard the environment by supporting sustainable e-waste management and recovering the valuable metals and other resources locked inside products that end up as e-waste. In the run-up to Rio+20 in June, this report shows how measures such as improved collection strategies and establishing more formal recycling structures, can limit environmental damage and provide economic opportunities,” added Steiner.
The exposure to hazardous substances in and around dismantling sites causes manifold health and safety risks for collectors, recyclers and neighbouring communities. Children’s health in particular may be at risk, said the report, since child labour is common in West Africa’s scrap metal business.
In Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria), the refurbishing sector provides income to more than 30,000 people.
Electrical and electronic equipment can contain hazardous substances (e.g. heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants).
Hazardous substances are released during various dismantling and disposal operations and are particularly severe during the burning of cables to liberate copper and of plastics to reduce waste volumes. Open burning of cables is a major source of dioxin emissions, a persistent organic pollutant that travels over long-distances that bio-accumulates in organisms up through the global food chain.
Electrical and electronic equipment also contains materials of strategic value such as indium and palladium and precious metals such as gold, copper and silver. These can be recovered and recycled, thereby serving as a valuable source of secondary raw materials, reducing pressure on scarce natural resources, as well as minimizing the overall environmental footprint.
Among the major findings:
- In Ghana in 2009, investigators found that around 70% of all electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) imports were used; 30% of second-hand imports were estimated to be non-functioning (therefore e-waste), producing about 40,000 tons of e-waste in 2010.
- Field investigations in Benin and Côte d’Ivoire have shown that about half of the imported used EEE is actually non-functional and non-repairable, thus defined as import of e-waste.
- An analysis of 176 containers of two categories of used electrical and electronic equipment imported into Nigeria, conducted from March to July 2010, revealed that more than 75% of all containers came from Europe, approximately 15% from Asia, 5% from African ports (mainly Morocco) and 5% from North America. A similar distribution could be observed in Ghana, where 85% of used EEE imports originated in Europe, 4% in Asia, 8% in North America, and 3% from other destinations.
- The UK is the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used EEE, followed with large gaps by France and Germany. Nigeria is the most dominant African importing country for new and used EEE, followed by Ghana.