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Time to focus on e-waste imports and exports

Recent media reports have highlighted the toxic dangers faced by people dealing with e-waste in Africa. Margaret Bates, professor of sustainable wastes management at the University of Northampton, says developing countries need to develop the right infrasctrucure and policies.

We are all shocked by the pictures and stories of e-waste burning and other dangerous e-waste practices in developing countries. However it is now time to focus on the e-waste solution rather than diverting all the resources to reinvestigating the problem. The problem is not with the origin of the electrical and electronic equipment, as wherever it came from and if were new or second hand it will reach the end of its life.

The Environment Agency and their International partners are having a significant impact on the illegal trade in e-waste. In 2005 the Basel Action Network estimated that 75% of the second hand material imported into Lagos was junk, by 2011 the Basel Convention study suggested that this figure was approximately 10%.

It is not just an issue with waste imports, it is estimated that by 2030 developing countries will be discarding around 400-700 million obsolete PCs per year compared to 200-300 million in developed countries.

The problem is the lack of infrastructure, effective policy and awareness in developing countries. Recently there has been a renewed focus on Ghana which is not surprising as the BBC recently reported that Agbogbloshie – the e-waste dump in Ghana – is one of the world’s most “toxic” places, and Ghana has imposed a ban on importing secondhand refrigeration equipment. It is important to note that the ban has been brought about due to concerns regarding the energy efficiency of old equipment rather than e-waste issues.

For several years the University of Northampton with an alliance of original equipment manufacturers, a UK-based recycler and the Basel Convention Regional Co-ordinating Centre for Africa, has been working with key stakeholders, including regulators, to develop a sustainable solution to e-waste in Africa.

The University has carried out training and capacity building for the informal sector, regulators and policy makers in a range of African countries. In Nigeria many delegates stopped burning plastics when they realised the health and environmental impacts. In 2014 we will be hosting a three-month fellowship for a representative from the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission to enable them to raise awareness and help with a solution for e-waste in Ghana.

The solution is available we just need to raise awareness of the problems and help to provide an economically and environmentally viable solution for developing countries.

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