East African Community member states will devise a uniform legal framework, to manage the rising volumes of electronic waste.
At a recent meeting in Nairobi themed Sustainable e-Waste Management in the East African Region, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania agreed to adopt a benchmark that will determine the quality of electronics imported into the region, create awareness of the dangers of e-waste and provide incentives to investors in e-waste management.
According to a country status presentation made by Kenya's Communications Authority, only Kenya has a legal framework for managing e-waste — the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act. Rwanda, on the other hand, has a draft policy in e-waste management.
“Regional governments have a duty to come up with quality standards defining safe electronic imports, including products classified as second-hand,” said Juma Ooro, chairperson of the East Africa Communications Organisation (EACO) working group on environment and e-waste.
The region has recommended that a study be carried out to establish the volumes of electronic waste to aid in the formulation of effective measures to deal with it, as the available statistics have not been validated.
“All departments involved in e-waste management should keep records from collection to the point of disposal,” said John Wasswa, a senior lecturer at Makerere University.
The research will include identifying models of electronics that are outdated. The meeting heard that a number of East Africans hold onto electronics that add no value to their lives, unaware of the environmental and health risks they expose themselves to.
“The region is seeking to roll out an awareness campaign that will make citizens voluntarily discard used electronics at points of collection,” said Helen Nakiguli, an expert on e-waste at the Uganda Communications Commission.
Safaricom, which collects e-waste, cited the lack of awareness on the risks to the environment as the biggest challenge.
“We advocate that appropriate legislation be instituted to provide incentives for businesses and individuals and to harmonise the e-waste collection process in order to increase the volumes passed on to recyclers,” said Nzioka Waita, Safaricom’s corporate affairs manager.
So far, Safaricom has collected 220 tonnes of e-waste from institutions and members of the public in 18 counties covering Western, Rift Valley, Nairobi and Eastern.
The framework will borrow from existing regional policies like that of the European Union, which recognises waste as a source of income, but will be streamlined to suit the EAC region.
“We need to study the international provisions on e-waste and adopt what fits our environment,” said Hodge Semakula, CEO of EACO.
Mr Semakula said that the provision of incentives like tax holidays to companies collecting and recycling waste would encourage more investment in the sector.
“This will in return create a strong chain from collection, sorting, manual dismantling and pre-processing of the e-waste, and eventually become popular in the business and earn profits across the region,” said Mr Semakula.
The member states agreed to license more e-waste collectors to enable the private sector to participate competitively. Kenya has three licensed collectors while Tanzania has one. Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi have none.
Governments have also been urged to fund processing plants that are capital intensive. Kenya has three, while the other member states have none.
“Having more investors will provide a blueprint for an e-waste extended producer responsibility principle. It will also contribute to other developments such as appropriate labelling and designs that contain non-hazardous components, are easy to recycle and prevent free riding by non-compliant producers,” said Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
The ministry through the National Environment Management Authority has developed draft e-waste regulations that require all importers of new and used electronics as well as local manufacturers to bear responsibility for the financial costs of incentivising collection and funding the treatment of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment.
Experts have said the incentives will encourage investors to pump more money into each stage of waste management.
“The incentives will enable them to carry out campaigns, open more collection centres and employ more people to aid in collection, sorting and even in the recycling process,” said Andrew Luzze, CEO East Africa Business Council.