The e-waste debate: Is it fixing digital gap or creating digital dump?

According to Green peace international, the ever-growing demand for the latest fashionable mobile phone, flat screen TV or super-fast computer creates ever larger amounts of obsolete electronics that are often laden with toxic chemicals like lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants.

Rather than being safely recycled, much of this e-waste gets dumped in developing countries.
In Kenya there is no tangible policy to tackle the e-waste menace yet the country’s ICT sector is growing fast. Importation of cheaper electronics, both genuine and fakes, means the country is sitting on a time bomb unless quick action is taken.

Talking to dealers, resellers and retailers in electronics like Television sets, mobile phones you will realize that consumers are buying new gadgets every day. Sadly though when these gadgets reach their end life, no one knows where they end up.
Unlike in cities like Berlin, Germany where solid waste is sorted at source, In Kenya and and other developing countries all wastes is lumped together and task left for street boys to join other scavengers in picking out what is useful for a living. Of course some entrepreneurs are already doing great work in recycling the e-waste but this is being done at small scale.
Tonnes and tonnes of e-waste is lying at dump sites in human neighborhoods.
Its hazardous but nobody seems to care.
At Kenya’s oldest and only e-waste recycling centre, Computer for Schools Kenya, great work is going on but the centre is working under capacity.
There is not enough e-waste to recycle because there are no channels to ensure flow of the waste from residential and offices to the centre.

Ignorance is partly to blame for this state of affairs yet research has shown that e-waste is hazardous.
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.

The ever-growing demand for the latest fashionable mobile phone, flat screen TV or super-fast computer creates ever larger amounts of obsolete electronics that are often laden with toxic chemicals like lead, mercury and brominated flame retardants. Rather than being safely recycled, much of this e-waste gets dumped in developing countries.

Expansion of the global market for electrical and electronic products continues to accelerate, while the lifespan of the products is dropping, resulting in a corresponding explosion in electronic scrap.
As noted by UNEP (2005)*:

“Every year, 20 to 50 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment waste (“e-waste”) are generated world-wide, which could bring serious risks to human health and the environment. While 4 million PCs are discarded per year in China alone.”

This rapidly growing “e-waste” stream presents additional difficulties because a wide range of hazardous chemicals are, or have in the past been, used in components of electrical and electronic devices, and these subsequently create substantial problems with regard to handling, recycling and disposal of obsolete products.

This rapidly growing “e-waste” stream presents additional difficulties because a wide range of hazardous chemicals are, or have in the past been, used in components of electrical and electronic devices, and these subsequently create substantial problems with regard to handling, recycling and disposal of obsolete products.

The European Union (EU), Japan, South Korea,Taiwan and several states of the USA have introduced legislation making producers responsible for their end-of-life products.
The EU has banned the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products from July 2006, to facilitate safer recycling.

For the present, however, the “e-waste” recycling sector in many parts of Asia and Africa remains largely unregulated. It is also poorly studied with regard to its impacts on the environment and on the health of recycling workers and surrounding communities.

See story for more on this

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