Before the electronic waste consumes us

Last week, Green Compass Recycling revealed that 90% of Africa’s electronic waste or e-waste is dumped in Nigeria. Green Compass said this in a presentation at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group stakeholders’ workshop in Lagos.

Electronic wastes are discarded electrical and electronic products or such electronic goods that are flagged for resale, recycling or reuse. 

The founder of Green Compass Recycling, Christian Wessels, said during the presentation titled ‘e-Waste Recycling’s Contribution to a Circular Economy,’ that e-waste is rising above population growth on account of the increase in per capita income in Nigeria. 

Related to this, the United Nations published alarming statistics in May 2015 that over 90% of electronic wastes were illegally traded or dumped. The report by UN Environment Programme (Unep) predicted that by 2017, the volume of such waste would be 50 million tonnes. 

Mobile phones and PCs contribute to the growing mountain of the e-waste and they are ferried mostly from the developed to the developing countries. More alarmingly, Nigeria was listed among the hubs of e-waste along with Ghana, China, Pakistan, India and Vietnam – a clear picture that the illegal e-waste destinations are chiefly in Africa and Asia. Also, in April of 2015, UN University report announced how 42m tonnes of electronic waste was dumped in 2014 costing the global economy $52 billion. Compared to this, the legitimate global waste and recycling market is estimated to be $410 billion a year.

Even though, as reported by the UK Guardian, exporting hazardous waste from EU and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Member States to non-OECD countries is banned, they found a way around and declare waste products as second-hand goods. For example, waste batteries are declared as plastic and cathode ray tubes falsely declared as metal scrap. 

“We are facing the onset of an unprecedented tsunami of electronic waste rolling out over the world,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of Unep.

The economic and environmental impact of the illegal trade is calamitous. The UN reported that nations are losing out on the rare earth metals, copper and gold locked in the e-waste and recommends national legislation and structures that will facilitate the recovery of the valuable materials. 

It’s comforting that there are valuable things that can be traded from the e-waste for good money. But the people need to be educated on how to go about that and shown markets for such products locally and internationally. The impact of recycling businesses will be leveraged even further through sensitisation and innovation. 

Frustratingly, unlike many countries, Nigeria is laden with many agencies that are mandated to stop hazards like this. But obviously, they are not doing their jobs effectively. 

If the government does not step in through legislation or make the related agencies to do their work, Nigeria will continue to accommodate the illegal products for a number of reasons. 

One of them is the fact that the Nigerian market has the constitution of a cockroach. It consumes everything thrown at it, anything it can find and it’s infinitely adaptable – although its presence is not necessarily helpful. 

Another reason is that we love cheap and old things. Some of our experts such as our mechanics even recommend that we buy old replacements instead of new. And sadly, we manufacture almost nothing, so we depend on others for our needs.

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