An e-waste management policy soon to be enforced in Rwanda will require producers of electronic goods, including importers and retailers, to organise a system for collection and treatment of e-waste.
According to officials at the Ministry of Youth and ICT involved in the drafting process, the policy which is currently before Cabinet, will set up a framework for the proper management of electronic waste from the manufacturer to the end user.
“Once the policy comes into effect, different institutions will have to put in place an operational manual as well as draft guidelines and regulations to ensure the proper handling of e-waste especially the collection from the user point to the established recycling plant,” said Emmanuel Dusenge, the engineer in charge of ICT Infrastructure Development at the Ministry of ICT.
Most telecom operators are however not aware of the imminent e-waste management policy and some of them have devised ways of effectively dealing with their e-waste.
“We firmly believe in environmental protection, so we do not just dump our old electronics," said Sunny Ntayombya, the corporate communications and government relations manager at Tigo Rwanda.
“We either give our old computers to schools or various other organisations as part of our CSR programme or we resell them at a very subsidised prices. This has helped us dispose of our e-waste in a responsible way,” he added.
The e-waste management policy will also require the government to develop a critical human resource base, skilled enough in handling e-waste.
“Currently we have people who try to dispose of e-waste but in dangerous and inappropriate ways that expose them and the environment to risks. The policy requires us to develop human resource capacity with the special skills to handle e-waste,” Mr Dusenge said.
Last year, the government kicked off a three-year project to recycle e-waste in the country dubbed National E-waste Management Strategy for Rwanda.
The project involving the setting up of collection centres for the waste is expected to cost Rwf1.1 billion according to Emmanuel Dusenge who said that a big chunk of the project financing will come from the National Climate Change and Environment Fund (Fonerwa) while the rest of it will be provided by various development partners.
While there are no accurate estimates of the e-waste volumes produced in Rwanda, the usage of electrical and electronic equipment is on the rise with the growth of the Information Communication and Technology infrastructure in the country.
Statistics show that 8.8 million Rwandans own mobile phones, though this figure could be higher due to users who own more than one handset. Statistics also show that 85 per cent of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) in the central government and other public institutions consists of laptops, 14 per cent of which are superfluous.
Waste from household appliances including redundant refrigerators, washing machines, cookers, TV sets, microwaves among others also contribute to the rising volumes of e-waste in the country, most of which is piled away in storage rooms for lack of proper disposal channels.
According to the acting director general of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (Rema) Colette Ruhamya, the e-waste menace is an ugly reality in Rwanda.
“We currently do not have the facilities to dismantle EEEs, separate the recyclable parts and finally dispose of the e-waste and this is a potential threat to the environment,” Ms Ruhamya said.
Broken computers, laptops, printers and other obsolete electronics from government offices and other institutions such as schools and universities, Eng. Ruhamya said, are mostly locked up in rooms at the different user points, while others are stored up at the Rwanda Housing Authority facilities.
Some of the e-waste from the government also ends up at the Tumba College of Technology which is the only institution in the country that refurbishes broken computers and printers.
“Currently we are the only institution that refurbishes broken computers and distribute them to different secondary schools. We do this to save huge government funds that go into purchasing new computers yet broken ones that are considered as waste can be repaired and put into good economic use,” said the principal of Tumba College of Technology, Eng. Pascal Gatabazi.
Regionally, countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana have also initiated processes to improve e-waste management.
Kenya was the first country in the region to set up an e-waste management plant in 2008 to handle not only the country’s e-waste but also the region’s e-waste recycling needs.
Developing countries have had the challenge of not only handling their own e-waste but also volumes of e-waste dumped in their territory by developed countries.
This problem necessitated the setting up of the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, usually known as the Basel Convention.
The Basel Convention, to which Rwanda is a signatory, was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations and specifically to prevent the transfer of e-waste from developed to less developed countries.
Studies have shown that health risks connected to e-waste come as a result of primary or secondary contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, and chromium among others found in EEEs.
Open air burning of e-waste to retrieve valuable components such as gold has been known to create fine particulate matter which is linked to pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.