Kenya’s recently published guidelines for e-waste management tell us that increased use of technology especially in ICT, low initial cost, and unplanned obsolescence of electrical and electronic equipment has led to an e-waste generation problem for Kenya.
The guidelines have been developed by the Ministry for Natural Resources and Minerals and the National Environment Management Agency with GESCI and other partners, with the strategic objective of providing a framework for the development of regulations and policies in Kenya that it is hoped will help to stymie the deluge of e-waste that is finding its way to landfills and dumpsites all over the country.
In a country afflicted with many other pressing problems such as growing youth unemployment, a refugee crisis in the North East, and an aids epidemic affecting 1.5 million Kenyans, how does the e-waste problem compare?
Well, UNEP estimates the current e-waste generated annually in Kenya at 11,400 tonnes from refrigerators, 2,800 tonnes from TVs, 2,500 tonnes from personal computers, 500 tonnes from printers and 150 tonnes from mobile phones (Press Release UNEP, 2010). This high rate of accumulation of ewaste stems not only from the rapid pace of emerging technologies but also from e-waste disposal by developed countries in the form of used electronic equipment with short life-spans.
I took the most modest tonnage of e-waste on the list and thought about what that might look like. After some web-scouring I found this image of 105 tonnes of seized marijuana to give me an idea of the scale of the problem in visual, if not visceral terms.
Dandora, an unrestricted dumping ground of 30 acres just eight kilometres from the city, tends to 2,000 tons of newly arrived waste per day, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury (not to mention used syringes) often found in electronic waste that make their way into the soil and contaminate the air.
The United Nations carried out a study of more than 300 schoolchildren near Dandora and found that about 50pc of them had respiratory problems. Also, 30pc had blood abnormalities that signalled heavy-metal poisoning. These figures are part of a worldwide environmental health crisis that attributes a quarter of all diseases affecting mankind to environmental risks.
The WHO confirmed that more than 4.7 million children under 5 die each year from environmentally related illnesses. Dandora is swelling with electronic waste of every variety: obsolete television sets, computers, and fridges, and of course mobile phones and their batteries, all of which contain highly toxic substances. Some of the risks posed to residents in the area include contracting cancer, respiratory and skin diseases due to poisonous by-products from electronic waste.
Apart from waste discarded by Kenyans, the country also receives hundreds of container loads of e-waste each month from developing countries disguised as ‘donations’. These donations are the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream partly because of deliberate designed obsolescence employed by manufacturers to stimulate demand by encouraging purchasers to buy sooner if they still want a functioning product.
There are two key international conventions regulating waste management: the Basel and Bamako Conventions. The Conventions recommend that signatories ensure that the generation of hazardous wastes, and other wastes within a country, are reduced to a minimum, taking into account social, technological and economic aspects.
Secondly, a country can export hazardous waste if it does not have the technical capacity, necessary facilities or suitable disposal sites to handle the waste in question in an environmentally sound and efficient manner. Steps must be taken to minimise pollution and its consequences for health as far as possible. Unfortunately, most developing countries are yet to bring laws into effect that prohibit or at least minimise the dumping of electronic waste in their countries from overseas.
The good news is that the Kenya ewaste guidelines are a precursor to the development of a National Policy on e-Waste Management for Kenya. The development of these guidelines is one of the activities in the e-learning strategy for the environment sector that was developed in 2009 and adopted in April 2010. The guidelines have been developed with the strategic objective of providing a framework for the development of regulations and policies in Kenya.
Specific objectives of the guidelines include:
o To enhance environmental protection from e-waste.
o To establish a basis for a policy and regulatory frameworks on e-waste management.
o To raise public awareness on sustainable management of e-waste in Kenya.
Included in the guidelines are approaches to enhance environmental protection; policy and regulatory frameworks; environmental awareness; categories of e-waste and target groups; ewaste treatment technologies; and disposal procedures. At an individual level provided the required knowledge is available to people (and that’s no minor challenge), decisive action can be taken to taper the flow of e-waste. Responsibility begins at the point of purchase.
By partly basing a purchase decision on the manufacturer’s policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate as individuals we can have a positive impact.
Ms Brannigan is the Communication Manager at gesci. This blog was first published on http://www.gesci.org/