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Why we should treasure e-waste

By Bernard Gitau
Tuesday, November 26th, 2019
E-waste management. Photo/Couresy

With the increasing disposal of e-waste, there has been need for a re-evaluation of how such trash is handled.

“We are churning more than 44,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, mostly obsolete phones, computers, TV sets but majority of Kenyans are not aware of how to dump and harness it,” said Director of Environmental Education in the Ministry Environment, Ayub Macharia.

He added that though e-waste had negative environmental and health impact, it also contains precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum and copper. 

“E-waste is precious if well utilised. The challenge we have as a country is lack of recycling capacity, policies and even data on how much the country churns out,” he said.

Significant loss

 His sentiments coincide with the United Nations E-waste Coalition and the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report tiled, A New Circular Vision for Electronics.

 The report, in addition to health and pollution impacts, says improper management of e-waste is resulting in significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials such as gold, cobalt and rare earth elements.

 “About seven per cent of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore,” part of the report reads.

 Kenya is facing a huge challenge in dealing with e-waste due to the growth of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry though initiatives such as e-government, e-education, e-medicine and e-commerce.

 According to reports by Communication Authority, Kenya had a total of 45.6 million mobile phone subscribers in 2018. The number of Internet users has also increased to 41.1 million in 2018. This means at least 80 per cent mobile and internet usage penetration.

 The last mile connectivity project, a rural electrification programme, has also led to increased access to electrical machines  including TV’s, radios, fridges and other appliances.

Hazardous waste

However, the end of life of such products is becoming shorter because of the fast-growing changes in technology, even as some machines have become obsolete.

 “When the country migrated from analog system of broadcasting to the digital, some of analog broadcasting machines were declared obsolete,” said Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko.

 He also noted phones with the Microsoft operating systems will become obsolete when the software will no longer support key social media platforms by end of 2019.

 The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) points that everything from mobile phones and computers to toasters and domestic solar power systems are contributing to the e-waste problem.

 And although it only amounts to around two per cent of all solid waste, it is responsible for 70 per cent of all hazardous waste, the UN report warned.

 The hazardous materials, also listed as human carcinogens, include lead, barium, mercury, nickel, cadmium and lithium. Components such as lead and mercury contaminate soil and water when disposed of in dump sites with other waste.

Macharia urges Kenyans to take unwanted e-waste to Safaricom and Communications Authority offices.

 “Though mobile phones and other electronic gadgets have gold and other scarce metals, the technology used to harvest them is expensive hence can only be done by specialists,” said Macharia.

Macharia said the government has licensed four recyclers, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Centre, E-waste Initiative Kenya (EWIK), Sintmund Group and Sinomet Kenya. Kenyans can seek also guidance on disposal from the ministry and National Environment Management Authority of Kenya (Nema).