Pan-African Forum on E-Waste Underlines Green Economy Opportunities in E-Waste Sector
Nairobi, 16 March 2012 – Priority actions for reducing the environmental and health impacts of growing levels of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), alongside promoting the sector’s potential for green jobs and economic development, were today agreed by representatives from 18 African states, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and academia.
The actions were agreed on the final day of the Pan-African Forum on E-Waste, which was held at the Nairobi headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Organized by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention and UNEP, with support from the Government of Kenya, and private sector companies including Dell, HP, Nokia and Philips, the forum was the first event of its kind on the continent. It focused on long-term solutions to the rising levels of obsolete mobile phones, refrigerators, televisions and other e-products in Africa.
Increasing domestic consumption of electronic products, coupled with the ongoing import of waste electronics into Africa from other regions, means that the continent is set to generate a higher volume of e-waste than Europe by 2017.
The Pan-African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi adopted a ‘Call to Action’, which outlines 8 priority areas to improve the environmentally-sound management of e-waste in Africa.
- Implementation and enforcement by African states of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and the Bamako Convention, which bans the import of hazardous wastes into Africa
- Development of national systems to improve the collection, recycling, transport, storage and disposal of e-waste
- National institutions to co-operate with multiple stakeholders (UN, NGOs, private sector and others) in producing e-waste assessments
- Recognition that the safe and sustainable recycling of e-waste provides an opportunity for green jobs and poverty reduction
- Awareness raising activities on environmental and health hazards linked to the unsound management of e-waste
“Managing e-waste, and other kinds of waste, is essential for the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy”, said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“Sustainable management of e-waste can combat poverty and generate green jobs through recycling, collection and processing of e-waste - and safeguard the environment and human health from the hazards posed by rising levels of waste electronics. With just over three months until the Rio+20 conference in Brazil, this event has underlined how smart public policies, creative financial incentives and technology transfer can turn e-waste from a challenge into an important resource for sustainable development,” added Mr. Steiner.
He highlighted that global recycling rates of some e-waste metals—known as rare earth metals—can be as low as one per cent despite these metals being crucial for components in hybrid electric car batteries to the magnets in wind turbines.
“The future of the clean tech, high-tech products and the transition to a Green Economy may in part depend on boosting the recycling of e-waste in order to assure a steady and streamlined supply of these specialty metals for these 21st century industries,” added Mr Steiner.
As well as serving as a valuable source of secondary raw materials, the recovery and recycling of e-waste can reduce pressure on scarce natural resources and contribute to emissions reductions.
“One tonne of obsolete mobile phones contains more gold than one tonne of ore and the picture is similar for other precious substances”, said Katharina Kummer-Peiry, Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention.
“If you consider the value of these materials, then this represents an important economic opportunity. There are recyclers and other industrial sectors who are interested in taking advantage of such opportunities, which can in turn create green jobs and support sustainable development.“
Delegates at the Pan-African E-waste Forum underlined the importance of improved access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Africa towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
But the disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can pose significant environmental and health risks. E-waste can contain hazardous substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants.
Much of the recycling of e-waste that takes place in Africa today occurs on an informal basis – often on uncontrolled dumpsites or landfills. Hazardous substances can be released during these dismantling and disposal operations. Open burning of cables, for example, is a major source of dioxin emissions; a persistent organic pollutant that travels over long-distances and can end up in food chain.
Participants at the Pan-African E-Waste Forum underlined the fact that recycling and recovery activities need to move from the unregulated, informal sector, where health and environmental risks are high, to a more regulated system using international recycling standards.
“Africa’s environmental challenges are growing by the day. This includes the exponential growth of electronic waste,” said Ali D. Mohamed, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources of Kenya.
“It is now the time for Africa to take action on addressing health and environmental problems as a result of current recycling practices, while creating jobs and business opportunities and alleviating poverty. We want to achieve this through an enforceable legislative framework,” added Mr. Mohamed.
According to Dr Ayub Macharia, Director General of NEMA Kenya, “Participants of the Pan-African Forum on E-waste envision an African continent free of poorly managed e-waste. NEMA will contribute to this vision through coordination, research, facilitation and enforcement, while encouraging responsible individual, corporate and collective participation towards sustainable development.”
As part of the ‘Call to Action’, manufacturers, importers, re-sellers and other handlers of electrical and electronic products should be required to organize the collection, recycling and recovery of e-waste. The forum agreed that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) should be a key component of the environmentally sound management of e-waste.