Zim needs clear poli­cies on e-waste man­age­ment

On the back of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment, the world is now grap­pling with the chal­lenge of e-waste with de­vel­op­ing na­tions sit­ting on a time bomb, as no tan­gi­ble poli­cies have been put in place to con­trol its dis­posal.

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Feature - Wal­ter Mswazie Fea­tures Cor­re­spon­dent

THE rapid spread of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic equip­ment has at­tracted pub­lic at­ten­tion, both on the pos­i­tive side and neg­a­tive ef­fects of bad man­age­ment of e-waste vis-a-vis the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health.

Avail­able in­for­ma­tion shows that Ghana ac­counts for moun­tains of haz­ardous waste weigh­ing about 40 mil­lion tonnes ev­ery year.

The waste, mostly from Europe and North Amer­ica, is burned, al­beit in a haz­ardous ef­fort to re­cover valu­able met­als.

A re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Ghana, Mr Atiemo Samp­son said: “Poor peo­ple in Africa can­not af­ford to process Europe’s elec­tronic waste. That waste is poi­son­ing our chil­dren.”

Mr Samp­son, a PhD stu­dent, was in­volved in test­ing the school and other ar­eas where more than 100 peo­ple were break­ing and burn­ing elec­tronic junk to ob­tain valu­able met­als like cop­per.

In pur­suance to this, about 50 or­gan­i­sa­tions that in­clude part­ners in the in­dus­try, coun­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, academia and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, came up with an ini­tia­tive called STEP-So­lu­tion to E-waste Prob­lem.

The main ob­jec­tives be­hind STEP are to op­ti­mise the life cy­cle of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic equip­ment by im­prov­ing sup­ply chains and re­duc­ing con­tam­i­na­tion.

It also seeks to pro­mote re-use of the elec­tri­cal de­vices in place of dis­pos­ing them, ex­er­cis­ing the dis­par­i­ties such as the dig­i­tal di­vide be­tween the in­dus­tri­al­is­ing and in­dus­tri­alised na­tions as well as in­creas­ing sci­en­tific pub­lic knowl­edge on e-waste.

STEP cul­mi­nated from a re­search con­ducted in 2003 at United Na­tions uni­ver­si­ties (UNU) to find the re­la­tion­ship be­tween elec­tronic de­vices, es­pe­cially com­put­ers and the en­vi­ron­ment.

This led to the pub­li­ca­tion of a book project called, Com­put­ers and En­vi­ron­ment 2003. The con­cept is the brain child of Klaus Hieronymi (Hewlett Packard), Eric Wil­liams (UNU) and Axel Sch­nei­der (PT PLUS) and it is premised on em­pir­i­cal eval­u­a­tion and in­te­grates a com­pre­hen­sive view of the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic as­pects of e-waste.

STEP dis­cour­ages il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to e-waste in­clud­ing il­le­gal im­por­ta­tion and re­use or re­cy­cling prac­tices that are haz­ardous to hu­man health and en­vi­ron­ment.

It seeks to pro­mote safe and eco-and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient, re-use and re-cy­cling prac­tices around the globe in a so­cially re­spon­si­ble man­ner.

In its 2010-2014 strategic plan, the min­istry of Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Tech­nol­ogy and Cy­ber Se­cu­rity set a tar­get to in­crease na­tional tele-den­sity by 10 per­cent.

This means the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced an up­surge in the use of com­put­ers, cel­lu­lar phones and other elec­tronic gad­gets.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2009 po­si­tion pa­per on ICTs and women de­vel­op­ment pre­sented by Mar­garet Zun­guze of E-knowl­edge for Women in South­ern Africa (Ecow­iza), while the prob­lem of e-waste in Zim­babwe was not doc­u­mented, the in­creas­ing im­por­ta­tion of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic de­vices, some of them with a short life span, is a threat to the en­vi­ron­ment.

“These sites are usu­ally fre­quented by the ur­ban poor and un­em­ployed scav­eng­ing for re­us­able plas­tics or met­als for re­sale, pos­ing se­ri­ous health haz­ards to them­selves as well as res­i­dents near the dumps.

“De­vel­oped coun­tries man­u­fac­ture mil­lions of tonnes of prod­ucts like com­put­ers, TV sets and mo­bile phones, as well as house­hold ap­pli­ances like re­frig­er­a­tors, mi­crowaves, etc.

“Some of these prod­ucts are ex­ported to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries as new items but some, which are ex­ported sec­ond-hand, are ef­fec­tively dumped,” said Zun­guze.

The short life span of most of these gad­gets was con­firmed by the United Na­tions En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­gramme (UNEP) and is a warn­ing of the dan­ger­ous amount of in­creas­ing e-waste, which is of­ten dumped in waste dis­posal sites.

How­ever, she said there was no ev­i­dence of wil­ful im­por­ta­tion for dump­ing in Zim­babwe, although it could be hap­pen­ing.

“There is no em­pir­i­cal proof on the de­lib­er­ate im­por­ta­tion of elec­tri­cal de­vices for dump­ing in the coun­try, although it is there.

“But the truth of the mat­ter is that there is a very low level of e-waste readi­ness. Dis­cus­sions with min­istries and de­part­ments on ICTs, the en­vi­ron­ment and waste man­age­ment re­vealed there is nei­ther awareness nor pre­pared­ness at all on issues of e-waste man­age­ment,” she said.

As­so­ci­a­tion for Pro­gres­sive Com­mu­ni­ca­tions (APC)’s se­nior of­fi­cial, Alan Fin­lay is­sued a pa­per on e-waste. He con­tends that there is a pos­i­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween the eco­nomic strength of a coun­try and the lev­els of e-waste.

Fin­lay says that: “In a strong econ­omy, im­ported tech­nol­ogy will be cheaper and old tech­nol­ogy will be more read­ily re­placed in this way in­creas­ing the lev­els of e-waste.”

The lat­ter could be true, so that in a re­cov­er­ing econ­omy like Zim­babwe, elec­tronic goods may be used for longer pe­ri­ods be­fore re­place­ment.

En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency (EMA) spokesper­son Steady Kan­gata ex­pressed con­cern over the grow­ing lev­els of e-waste in the coun­try.

“While the mag­ni­tude of e-waste in the coun­try is not doc­u­mented, the prob­lem is thought to be worse than what we can imag­ine. The in­creas­ing im­por­ta­tion of elec­tri­cal and elec­tronic de­vices poses a big threat to the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

“The reduction in prices of ICT ma­te­rial has given birth to an up­surge of elec­tronic de­vices im­ported from other coun­tries. Some gad­gets are sec­ond hand prod­ucts and would ei­ther come as donations or at very cheap prices.

“Within a short space of time the gad­gets would not be work­ing and com­pa­nies would just dump them in their of­fices wors­en­ing the e-waste prob­lem.”

How­ever, he said there were no par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dents of e-waste prob­lem in the coun­try be­cause most African states are still be­hind first world coun­tries in tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment with most com­put­ers found in of­fices.

“We have this prob­lem but mainly, it is caused by of­fice equip­ment where com­put­ers are dis­carded be­cause they have be­come ob­so­lete. The sit­u­a­tion also ap­plies to the is­sue of cel­lu­lar phones,” he said.

“It is high time peo­ple em­ploy waste man­age­ment con­cept that in­clude, re­use, re­cy­cle, re­duce, re­cover, re­design, refuse and re­think. Peo­ple should use the re­cov­ery of com­po­nents like those that have lead. Lead is detri­men­tal to the ecosys­tem. This can be used in the man­u­fac­tur­ing of other de­vices.”

He said the agency was guided by waste man­age­ment pol­icy in the con­trol of all waste not specif­i­cally e-waste.

World Links Zim­babwe, an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose fo­cus is to fa­cil­i­tate the use of com­put­ers, urges schools to bring ob­so­lete com­put­ers to their work­shop in Harare.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has a re­coup­ing pro­gramme where com­put­ers are bro­ken down to their ba­sic parts; re­us­able parts are put back to use and the waste is sent to City Coun­cil mu­nic­i­pal dumps and land­fills.

How­ever, with no in­cen­tives given to the schools as an en­cour­age­ment to re­spond pos­i­tively, the pro­gramme is fac­ing chal­lenges. This means most com­put­ers will re­main gath­er­ing dust, tak­ing valu­able space, in in­sti­tu­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Com­puter Ex­change an av­er­age com­puter may con­tain up to 1 000 tox­ins in­clud­ing lead, mer­cury, cad­mium and other heavy met­als that are known to cause dam­age to the ner­vous sys­tem, the brain, the kid­neys, and can cause birth de­fects and can­cer.

It is es­ti­mated that up to 40 per­cent of heavy met­als in land­fills come from elec­tronic equip­ment dis­cards.

The Harare waste man­age­ment depart­ment has pro­to­cols of proper dis­posal for haz­ardous waste, but does not ad­dress the proper treat­ment of e-waste.

Mo­bile tech­nol­ogy us­age has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased, and mo­bile phones are read­ily dis­carded due to rapid tech­no­log­i­cal changes and their low av­er­age life span.

Re­cently there has been an in­flux of cheap sec­ond-hand mo­bile phones on the mar­ket from the East, es­pe­cially Dubai and China.

The avail­abil­ity of cheap SIM cards means that any­one who wants to own a mo­bile phone can do so and many Zim­bab­wean own more than one line.

Zim­babwe is a sig­na­tory to the 1989 Basel Con­ven­tion on the Con­trol of Trans-boundary Move­ments of Haz­ardous Wastes and their Dis­posal, but is yet to rat­ify it.

More than 134 coun­tries have recog­nised this con­ven­tion.

How­ever, rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Basel Con­ven­tion has not nec­es­sar­ily led to pol­icy or leg­isla­tive re­sponses.

And en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist say in the ab­sence of strong leg­isla­tive prac­tices in Zim­babwe, the job of man­ag­ing e-waste is left to the coun­try’s in­ca­pac­i­tated En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency, which re­lies heav­ily on vol­un­tary com­mu­nity ac­tions to guide waste man­age­ment.

They say there is still no po­lit­i­cal will to drive efforts to man­age e-waste which is silently af­fect­ing pub­lic health and caus­ing ex­ten­sive dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment.

A pile of elec­tronic waste which con­tains toxic in­gre­di­ents

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Zimbabwe

© PressReader. All rights reserved.