Electrical and electronic waste (“e-waste”), which includes discarded technology equipment and parts, contains contaminants that are hazardous to human health and the environment. E-waste management is a growing concern for a number of African countries which, in addition to generating e-waste domestically, also receive millions of tons of (often illegally) exported foreign e-waste. In light of the continent’s population growth and accompanying technology boom, experts predict that, by 2017, Africa could generate more domestic e-waste than the EU. In response to growing concerns about e-waste, public and private sector initiatives in Africa are developing innovative solutions for e-waste management. These developments have the potential to not only yield safe and sustainable e-waste management practices, but also spawn cutting-edge business ventures.
In Kenya, electronics producers, investors, and local organizations recently collaborated to launch the country’s first large-scale, e-waste recycling hub. The recycling hub will help Kenya manage the approximately 15,000 tons of used computers and mobile phones shipped there from the United States and other Western countries, along with the thousands of tons of e-waste that Kenya generates domestically each year. The hub program plans to create forty collection points run by local entrepreneurs, which buy e-waste from collectors who are trained to safely handle the material. The collection points then sell the material to the main hub, where e-waste is sustainably processed into components that are sold back to the technology industry for new devices. The goal of the program is to develop a local, sustainable e-waste recycling industry in Kenya.
Kenya’s new recycling hub reflects its ongoing leadership in e-waste management solutions. In March of 2012, the Kenyan government, along with technology companies, worked with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and the United Nations Environment Programme to organize a Pan-African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi. The Forum adopted a Call for Action on E-Waste in Africa, which supports a regional approach for the movement and environmentally-sound management of e-waste to protect human health and the environment, and also promote opportunities for social and economic development.
Ghana and Nigeria have also undertaken efforts to address the public health and environmental impacts of e-waste and to generate opportunity and innovation in e-waste management. Considering the role of the extractive industry in these two countries, it is notable that sound e-waste management practices can save valuable commodities. It is estimated that e-waste recycling could produce forty-to-fifty times more rare metals than equivalent deposits mined from the ground.