Every day, electronic devices continue to transform the world and make human life easier. However, while the world becomes more wired through laptops, tablets and mobile phones, a mountain of electronic waste is heaping.
Whether from breakdown, slow-down, or just the availability of a newer model, people discard electronics at the slightest inconvenience.
A recent United Nations report found that 41 million tonnes of e-waste worth over £37 billion ($47 billion) was discarded globally in 2014 and only six million tonnes of that was recycled properly. It also notes that e-waste volumes rose 63 per cent over the past five years in Asia alone.
The huge threat of e-waste to the environment was highlighted at a recent German Embassy Green Economy Cycle Waste Management workshop in Nairobi.
The forum brought together government agencies, the private sector and other stakeholders to create awareness and showcase possibilities of economic and social value from waste in Kenya.
German deputy ambassador to Kenya Michael Derus said that protecting the environment is no longer a moral high ground but an issue affecting economic growth, and is necessary if countries are to realise their economic aspirations and develop sustainable economic practices.
Electronic waste is now Kenya’s fastest growing waste component.
A 2014 research conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme dubbed Solving the E-waste Problem indicates that Kenya generates over 44,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, with experts saying that irresponsible disposal of electronics has greatly contributed to environmental degradation and the escalation of health conditions such as cancer.
The high rate of e-waste accumulation in Kenya is caused by the influx of cheap short life products mainly from Asian countries.
In 2016 for example, $15.5 billion worth of Chinese phones were shipped into the country according to official data.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) centre, the only licensed e-waste management company in Kenya, handles about 200 metric tonnes of e-waste annually — about one per cent of Kenya’s total e-waste production — way below its capacity to handle 350 metric tonnes.
According to WEEE manager Seth Munyambu, Kenya’s e-waste problem is fuelled by a number of factors including low awareness and the lack of an independent law to manage how it is handled.
‘’We do not have a stand-alone law on the management of electronic waste in Kenya because the draft bill of 2013 has been stuck in parliament for five years,” said Mr Munyambu.
“One of the greatest challenges in the management of e-waste is the low-level of citizen awareness on the harmful effects it has on the environment, their health and safety.”
The lack of a proper infrastructure policy and legislative framework guiding the recycling, refurbishment and disposal has seen most electronic waste end up with informal collectors exposing them to a huge health risk.
E-waste is composed of a complex mix of plastics and chemicals, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury often found in electronics that makes its way into the soil and contaminates the air.
A UNEP study of 300 schoolchildren near Dandora — Nairobi’s largest open dumpsite — found that about 50 per cent of them had respiratory problems, and 30 per cent had blood abnormalities signalling heavy-metal poisoning.
The World Health Organisation places deaths of children under five from environmentally related illnesses worldwide at 4.7 million a year.