A new StEP Green Paper produced by Öko-Institut and PAN-Ethiopia provides a timely overview of the current e-waste situation in Ethiopia and explores possibilities for improving e-waste management in the future. Produced under a partnership between the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative to develop a sound e-waste management system in Ethiopia, this StEP Green Paper is particularly timely in that e-waste is not yet a significant problem in Ethiopia. However, indicators suggest that it soon will be a problem if proactive steps are not taken to create the political, technical and physical infrastructure to effectively manage it. This report, titled “E-waste Country Study in Ethiopia”, provides an important foundation for these steps by identifying key trends and challenges to be addressed by e-waste-related policy, training and infrastructure development.
The report finds that e-waste volumes in Ethiopia are presently small and generally confined to urban areas, particularly Addis Ababa. While “there are some hints that e-waste is disposed of in an uncontrolled manner”, most of it is simply stored in households and offices, as it still possesses value. According to the report, an estimated 4,300 tonnes of non-functioning computers, televisions, mobile phones and refrigerators are stored in households and businesses in Ethiopia’s 10 largest cities. However, as Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most rapidly developing countries, availability of electrical and electronic equipment will surely increase and relative costs of acquiring it will decrease. As this happens, the authors predict, the willingness to store non-functioning equipment will decrease and the volume of e-waste will increase.
With the exception of mobile phones, small batteries, radios and torch-lights, rural Ethiopians have very little access to electrical and electronic equipment and thus produce little e-waste. Until the electricity and communications infrastructure in rural areas improves, it is unlikely that a significant volume of e-waste will be generated outside of the country’s larger cities.
Presently, Ethiopia possesses very limited technical and infrastructural capacity to collect and process e-waste in a socially- and environmentally-sound manner. Developments such as the creation of the Demanufacturing Facility south of Addis Ababa represent positive steps. However, at the Demanufacturing Facility and across Ethiopia, processing capacity is still limited, collection systems must be improved, workers must be trained, pre-processing and storage solutions must be found, and downstream markets and solutions must still be established before responsible e-waste recycling can become a viable option. Furthermore, the report highlights the need in Ethiopia for effective e-waste policies, reliable funding mechanisms (which could be based in part on the extended producer responsibility principle), technological development, improved monitoring and enforcement, workforce training, and awareness-generating activities. The technical, political, economic and logistical challenges are many, but unlike many countries facing tremendous e-waste problems today, Ethiopia is in a position to develop its e-waste management strategy and infrastructure to responsibly handle e-waste before it becomes a problem. This StEP Green Paper provides a solid foundation on which to build toward this goal.
The StEP Green Paper “E-waste Country Study Ethiopia” may be downloaded here.