Representatives from 18 African states, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the private sector agreed on priority actions for reducing the environmental and health impacts of growing levels of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) in Africa, as well as for promoting proper e-waste management as a source of green jobs and economic development.
The actions were agreed on the final day of the Pan-African Forum on E-Waste, which was held from 14-16 March 2012 at the Nairobi headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a StEP member.
Organized by the Secretariat of the Basel Convention and UNEP, with support from the StEP Initiative, the Government of Kenya, and private sector companies including StEP members 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 electrical and electronic products in Africa.
Increasing domestic consumption of electronic products, coupled with the ongoing flow of waste electronics into Africa from other regions, means that the continent is set to handle a higher annual volume of e-waste than Europe by 2017.
The Pan-African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi adopted a 'Call to Action', which outlines eight priority areas to improve the environmentally-sound management of e-waste in Africa, including:
•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 (United Nations, NGOs, private companies 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.
Delegates at the Pan-African Forum on E-Waste underlined the importance of improved access to information and communication technologies (ICT) in Africa as a step towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
However, the disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can pose significant environmental and health risks. E-waste often contains 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 in uncontrolled dumpsites or landfills by people – including children – who lack proper safety equipment and are regularly exposed to the hazardous substances that are released during the dismantling and disposal of e-waste. 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 the food chain.
Attendees at the Pan-African Forum on E-waste 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.
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.