After tackling the issue of waste and recycling in Africa in a previous article, let us focus specifically on electronic waste or E-waste,also known as D3E in French for Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE). One of the countries which have made the most progress in the management of specific waste is Ghana.
Tablets, flat screens, smart phones, high tech gadgets are equipments which quickly become obsolete and are thus thrown away, in fact, wasted. Over the period of a decade, volumes of electronic waste have landed in open dumpsites in the poorest countries on the planet, notably Africa. According to a study commissioned by the UN in 2013, global electronic waste will increase by a third between 2013 and 2017, exceeding 60 million tons of waste annually.
Ghana, one of the most affected countries on the continent with respect to the entrance of electrical equipment and used computers, has suddenly found itself burdened under the weight of plastic and computer waste. From the late 1990s, the country has progressively received more European electronic waste on its territory, exported to prevent them from being discarded in Europe or United States.
Often, these computers and electronic gadgets are even exported to Ghana as humanitarian donations or less expensive second hand equipment, becoming real poisoned gifts. The Agbogbloshie market in the suburb of Accra has become the symbol of this catastrophe, filmed many times for its heaps of waste as far as the eyes can see, and its pungent fumes due to the gadgets which are burnt there, often by children, to extract the copper before discarding them.
In addition, from the late 2000s, the level of consumption of electronic products in Africa had increased so much – as high as 85% in some West African countries – to such an extent that the majority of new or second hand waste electronic and electrical equipment were now products on the continent according to the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) study «WEEE? Where are we in Africa? ».
To address the influx of waste which is extremely difficult to recycle or process, many countries have begun to mobilise themselves specifically since early 2010. In 2012, a Pan-African forum was organised on the issue. Ghana has since then completely banned second hand refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners after five years of legal battle. On its part, Nigeria has begun to enforce the re-registration of importers of electronic goods to facilitate follow up of the goods. Cote d’Ivoire, in October 2015, launched an electronic and electrical waste elimination and recycling campaign which had the objective of collecting and recycling 40 tons of waste in four months.
Recycling some components present in these electronic gadgets could become lucrative since these electrical and electronic equipment contain valuable materials, including indium and palladium, precious metals such as gold, copper and silver which could be extracted, recycled and reused. It is estimated that in the year 2014 alone, E-waste products contained an equivalent of 48 million euros worth of plastic and other recyclable materials, of which 300 tonnes of gold…The UN on its part is advocating for the establishment of state recycle institutions and the consolidation of legislation on constraints on the export of E-waste.
As a first step, a convention was signed in Bamako in 2013. According to the UNEP, with a partnership between the public and private sectors, the development of the recycling sector could facilitate both job creation and better legislation on environmental protection.