Dark side dig­i­tal di­vide

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT -

As con­sumers, we have a seem­ingly in­sa­tiable ap­petite for ev­ery pos­si­ble type of gad­get and house­hold ap­pli­ance avail­able – from sleek smart­phones to curved TVs and cord­less ket­tles. Sim­i­larly, businesses are arm­ing them­selves with the lat­est and great­est so­lu­tions as tech­nol­ogy in­creas­ingly be­comes a key dif­fer­en­tia­tor. In many African coun­tries, which are rapidly cross­ing the so-called dig­i­tal di­vide, there is a vo­ra­cious hunger for both new and sec­ond-hand goods – par­tic­u­larly as the mid­dle classes swell in num­ber and be­come more tech-savvy and glob­ally con­nected. In a sim­i­lar vein, fast grow­ing African economies are in­vest­ing in vast IT in­fra­struc­tures and net­works, look­ing to woo in­ter­na­tional in­vestors and bol­ster growth with world­class con­nec­tiv­ity. EN­TER­ING THE WASTE STREAM Yet there is a dark and in­sid­i­ous side to all this de­vel­op­ment and it comes in the form of e-waste – a prob­lem that the United Na­tions, among oth­ers, has f lagged as a grow­ing threat to both hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment. E-waste is a term used to de­scribe al­most all types of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic equip­ment (EEE) that has or could en­ter the ‘waste stream’ – it cov­ers TVs, com­put­ers, mo­bile phones, white goods (e.g. fridges, wash­ing ma­chines, dry­ers), home en­ter­tain­ment and stereo sys­tems, toys, toast­ers, ket­tles (ba­si­cally any house­hold or busi­ness item with cir­cuitry, or elec­tri­cal com­po­nents with power or bat­tery sup­ply).

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, the boom­ing economies of West Africa, for ex­am­ple, are gen­er­at­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in e-waste that is pre­sent­ing mount­ing health and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks. Do­mes­tic con­sump­tion makes up the ma­jor­ity, up to 85%, of waste elec­tronic and elec­tri­cal equip­ment (WEEE) pro­duced in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the UN study, Where are WEEE in Africa. The study, which as­sessed the sit­u­a­tion over two years in f ive coun­tries – Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria – dis­cov­ered that they pro­duce be­tween 650 000 and 1m tons of do­mes­tic e-waste each year.

“The vol­ume of e-waste in Africa is grow­ing, how­ever, this is not nec­es­sar­ily due to the same rea­sons that have been dis­cussed his­tor­i­cally,” says Jean CoxKearns, global di­rec­tor of com­pli­ance at Dell Inc., a multi­na­tional tech­nol­ogy com­pany. “His­tor­i­cally, the vol­umes of e-waste aris­ing in Africa were deemed

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