UNEP backs action on e-waste in East Africa
Nairobi, 7 September 2010 - Kenya is set to become the first East African nation to develop regulations on the management of electronic waste (e-waste), following a national conference held at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi. The aim is to minimize the impacts of the unsafe disposal of electronic products on public health and the environment.
Delegates from Kenya's Environment Ministry, the country's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), software giant Microsoft, UNEP and the telecommunications industry came together , Tuesday, to chart a common way forward in dealing with e-waste management in line with the Basel Convention and other international frameworks.
The need to identify and map the environmental impact of e-waste on Kenya was identified as a national priority. Experts also discussed the capacity constraints hindering the disposal of e-waste as well as the collection system and recycling infrastructure.
E-waste consists of old electronic items such as computers, printers, mobile phones, refrigerators and televisions. Increasing demand for electronic goods in Kenya and in the developing world means that levels of e-waste are growing fast. As a result, the hazardous substances such as heavy metals contained in most of these discarded products are posing a serious risk to the environment and to human health.
But e-waste also presents an economic opportunity through the recycling and refurbishing of discarded electronic goods and the harvesting of the precious metals they contain.
A recent baseline study conducted by the Kenyan Information Communications and Technology Network, showed that Kenya generates 3,000 tons of electronic waste per year. The study predicts that the quantity is expected to rise as demand for electronic goods increases.
Internationally, China, India and Pakistan receive much of the world's e-waste. Worldwide, e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year.
Speaking at the workshop, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper spoke of the emerging global threats and opportunities provided by tackling the growing e-waste challenge. Acknowledging technology's potential for assisting with infrastructure and overcoming knowledge barriers, she noted innovation and technology can also play a role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, green growth and assisting with climate change challenges.
However, given the increased pace of technological development and obsolescence, many appliances have a short life-expectancy and require sound re-use, recycling and disposal solutions. Dumping or improper recycling of electronic waste causes serious environmental contamination, and while electronic goods are mostly used in the developed world, many end up in developing countries.
"Raising recycling rates and re-using valuable metals and components, as well as increasing safe waste management and its regulation, is critical if countries and businesses are to transform mountains of e-waste into an asset", said Ms. Cropper.
Microsoft's Regional Education Manager for East and Southern Africa, Mr. Mark Matunga, called for concerted efforts in e-waste management, which has proved to be a challenge to many African countries.
"Kenya, like most Africa countries has no polices and strategies for dealing with e-waste and therefore its population is greatly exposed to health hazards that are associated with e-waste", said Mr. Matunga.
At present, Kenya has no specific laws relating directly to e-waste. The government-backed recommendations produced at the Nairobi meeting could pave the way towards the first legislation in East Africa on e-waste management.
Notes to Editors
- UNEP has been conducting extensive research on e-waste and launched a landmark report, 'Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources', in February 2010. The report examined e-waste in 11 developing countries, including Kenya.
- UNEP hosts the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Under the Convention, inventories and national management plans are being developed in Africa to improve the collection, repair, refurbishment and recovery of e-waste.