(This entry was posted by Dr. Kirstie McIntyre, Head of Environmental Compliance at HP)
The rapid economic growth of emerging markets has led to a rise in the generation of electronic waste (e-waste) in the last decade. The European Environment Agency and United Nations Environment Programme estimate that 40-50 million tonnes of electrical equipment waste are produced each year globally. It’s increasing three times faster than all other types of domestic waste.
In the decade to 2010, six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world were African.[i] Across Africa the technology market is predicted to grow by over 8% a year for the next three years.[ii] This is great news for the region, but comes at a cost. E-waste in Africa is growing 20% each year due to rising sales of electronic goods and legal and illegal imports of second hand and surplus equipment.
The lack of a sustainable e-waste management infrastructure in most African countries means that unsafe dismantling and recycling of used equipment pose serious threats to workers’ health and the environment. This is compounded by situations where there is often little e-waste policy or legislation, regulations to protect the health of e-waste workers are often limited, and where there is little or no infrastructure or training to support sustainable waste management systems.
In October 2011, HP opened the East African Computer Recycling Company (EACR) in Mombasa, Kenya, in partnership with Camara Education. Kenya produces 3,000 tonnes of e-waste annually – waste that on the one hand can cause great harm to the environment, but on the other, can be used as a resource and an economic stimulus.
Camara Education is an NGO working with disadvantaged communities in Africa. EACR is operating Kenya’s first IT e-waste recycling facility, operating to international health, safety and environmental standards and establishing a local, sustainable IT e-waste recycling industry. The facility receives end-of-life IT from business and public sector customers, the informal sector and Camara’s own network of schools in Kenya, assessing the waste for refurbishment or recycling. Already the EACR has more than 100 clients, including 38 schools.[iii]
HP has been involved in the African market for many years, and in Nigeria HP provides training to e-waste workers in Lagos’ Alaba market, offering advice on handling e-waste containing hazardous materials such as lead and cadmium.[iv]
E-waste management clearly holds opportunities in skills transfer and revenue generation that can be turned into drivers for incorporating Africa’s informal recycling networks into economically, ethically and environmentally sustainable systems. IT recycling is now a major global industry. Comprehensive training and education of the informal sector are key to enable the collection, dismantling and recycling sectors in Africa to capitalize on revenue opportunities while ensuring e-waste management can operate as a self-sustaining system. HP continues to invest heavily in education and training based on its experience across the region.
[i] The Economist, 6.1.2011, www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/01/daily_c
[ii] HP data