E-waste menace in Kenya refuses to go away

BY JAMES RATEMO IN NAIROBI,KENYA

E-waste menace around the world has been a major concern to environmental conservationists.

In Kenya and other developing countries, balancing between the need to serve masses with affordable computers and curbing technology dumping has often put Governments and distributors of used computers on a collision course.

According to UNEP’s recent statistics an estimated 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronics waste is generated annually which, according to one estimate, if loaded on railway trucks would produce a train that would stretch once around the world.

Sadly too growth in electronics is unlikely to abate any time soon, especially as disposable incomes rise in the rapidly developing economies and Internet connectivity cost lowered with arrival of high speed broadband Undersea cables,

In Kenya, demand for computers and Internet-enabled mobile phones, is at its peak.

This follows the arrival of two major Under-sea cables, Teams and Seacom, which are set to drastically enhance Internet connectivity speed and ignite nationwide Internet penetration.

Despite Government’s many efforts to provide computers to the masses still need from the unserved population is overwhelming especially with the ongoing ICT infrastructural development.

Debate around importation and distribution of refurbished computers is still a tricky topic in Kenya.

More than a year ago the Government slammed a 25 per cent excise duty on all imported refurbished computers and zero-rated imported new computers with the aim of curbing possible dumping.

Although this might be well intentioned, proponents of refurbished computers’

use term the step ill advised and one that hampers ICT growth in a country like Kenya which is still muddled in poverty.

Computer Aid International, the world’s largest non-for profit provider of computers to developing countries has so far distributed 12,000 refurbished PCs in Kenya for the past eight years.

According to Computer Aid International Assistant Director, Africa Programmes, Gladys Muhunyo, the group provides PCs to organisations who cannot afford to buy new computers and who would otherwise have no access to ICT solutions to development.

“We ensure that refurbished computers we distribute must have a life of atleast three years. After the computers reach end life we pick them up for recycling and proper disposal,”said Muhunyo.

Receiving 1000 laptops from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) at Nairobi’

s British High Commission, Muhunyo called on the Kenya Government to put in place policies that enhance e-waste management.

She said availability of affordable bandwidth (through TEAMS and Seacom) means more people will access online resources via desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones while the ongoing campaign by Kenya Power and Lighting company, companies will allow many homes to own one or more televisions.

Currently the Government is spearheading a campaign for one million laptops where beneficiaries will acquire loan to buy the laptops and repay without interest. The Government would pay interest on the loans and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta allocated sh500,000 in this financial year’s budget to jumpstart the process.

British Deputy High Commissioner, Louise De Sousa, said the Computer Aid International UK office collects and refurbishes computers and finds out parts that can be reused to avoid reusable computers going to a dumpsite.

“The burst in online activity will raise very key questions; what happens to the electronic equipment that needs upgrading or disposal and will and how will underprivileged schools and communities get their first computer experience?”Muhunyo told Tech.Insight in an interview.

She added: “If electronic waste is found at the Dandora dumping site or any other dumpsite in the country, the original manufacturer must be forced to be equally environmentally and socially responsible by paying for the end-of-life recycling of their products-just as they already do in Europe,”she advised.

A lot is happening in Kenya and the region in the quest to go green and embrace the latest technologies.

Recently, Kenya has been on a visionary path to preserving major water towers including the Mau Complex in Rift valley, in which the cabinet just approved recommendation by a taskforce to relocate and compensate deserving thousands of settlers.

But what is yet to capture national mood is the war on e-wastes.

This is deadly bomb in waiting unless stakeholders stir to reality that no policies have been put in place to curb the menace.

Visit any dumpsite across the country and you will be shocked at the amount of e-wastes dumped alongside metals, plastics, and organic matter.

Obsolete Television Sets, dead radio and mobile phones are all dumped together indiscriminately.

In developed countries like Germany, in major cities, sorting wastes at source and recycling metals, plastics and electronic waste has resulted into a greener cleaner environment.

Kenya however is gaining pace in its quest to curb the e-waste eyesore.

Computer For Schools Kenya is running an e-waste recycling centre with capacity to handle 2000 tons of e-waste annually alongside a project of distributing donated computers to schools.

“By the end of the year we intend to expand to handle 5.8million tonnes of e-waste and serve the East and Central African region,”

said Stephen Kahara, Projects Manager, Computers for Schools Kenya.

Kahara said CFSK runs an inventory and support programme to ensure that all donated computers are repossessed and recycled when they turn obsolete or reach end-of –life.

“E-waste is one of the rapidly growing environmental problems in the world. At our E-waste recycling centre, We extend life of donated computers if possible, turn some to TVs to avoid poisonous components like mercury and lead going to landfills,”said Kahara.

Part of recycling at CFSK, includes turning ‘dead’ computer monitors into television sets which they sell locally.

Ends.

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