It is no longer news neither is it debatable that Nigeria is facing an electronic waste (e-Waste) crisis, however, what remains a key topic for discussion is the solutions and ways by which the e-Waste crisis can be tackled for the benefits of all stakeholders.
According to a report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the United Nations (UN), e-Waste Coalition, released at Davos, Switzerland in January 2019, Global e-waste production is on track to reach 120 million tonnes per year by 2050 if current trends continue.
The report also reveals the annual value of global e-waste to be over $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries. More than 44 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste was produced globally in 2017 – over six kilograms for every person on the planet. This is equivalent in weight to all the commercial aircraft ever built.
Less than 20% of e-waste is formally recycled, with 80% either ending up in a landfill or being informally recycled – much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. E-waste in landfill contaminates soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk.
According to the report, in addition to health and pollution impacts, improper management of e-waste is resulting in a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, such as gold, platinum, cobalt and rare earth elements. As much as 7% of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.
What is e-Waste? A recent report entitled: “A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot In support of the United Nations E-waste Coalition, defined e-Waste as anything with a plug, electric cord or battery (including electrical and electronic equipment) from toasters to toothbrushes, smartphones, fridges, laptops and LED televisions that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end-of-life products. E-waste is also called waste electrical or electronic equipment, or WEEE for short. e-Waste comes from many sources including households, businesses, and governments.
Though Nigeria does not manufacture IT consumables, large quantities of discarded and used electronics are being imported into the country on a daily basis. With the importation of such goods, it is only natural that when their “useful life” expires they would become waste or more appropriately, e-Waste. Unfortunately, the gross majority of e-Waste are improperly handled, burnt and used for landfills. It is in burning these e-wastes and using them as landfills that grave danger is posed to our soil, the atmosphere, the environment in general and invariably, our health.
This is so because most of the techs we use contain toxic materials such as lead and zinc. These elements contaminate groundwater and soil, thereby affecting crops, humans and animals alike; thus, the increase in cases of lung cancer and neurological issues.
With all these points outlined, one begins to ask the question, what can a nation like Nigeria which has become a dumping ground for e-Waste do to tackle the crisis at hand and how can Nigeria benefit from $62.5 billion e-Waste market.
When broken down into their components, e-waste can be very valuable; stakeholders must be made to realize that cash can be made from trash. By estimation, this waste stream reached 50 million tonnes in 2018 and this figure is expected to double if nothing changes. Globally, society only deals with 20% of e-Waste appropriately and there is little data on what happens to the rest, which for the most part ends up in a landfill, or is disposed of by informal workers in poor conditions. Yet e-waste is worth at least $62.5 billion annually, which is more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries. In the right hands, however, it could be worth considerably more.
e-Waste can also be a good source of employment, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector in Nigeria; the activities of the informal handlers must be put to check and upgraded. The government should enter into a public-private partnership to invest in the sector and help create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in the tonnes of e-waste disposed of in Nigeria annually. It is necessary that the government acts, making and enforcing policies that would ensure e-Wastes in Nigeria is handled in the most professional manner and under the highest industrial and environmental standards.
The government also needs to embark on enlightenment campaigns highlighting the dangers of e-waste, how to curb them and also tap into the enormous potentials in the sector, across the country, as many people are ignorant.
A new vision for the production and consumption of electronic and electrical goods is needed. It is easy for e-waste to be framed as a post-consumer problem, but the issue encompasses the lifecycle of the devices everyone uses. If the sector is supported with the right policy and implementation mix, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs and the hazards would be minimized.