It is estimated that over 17,000 tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) is generated in Kenya annually, which is equivalent to 130 million mobile phones. Electronic waste is now Kenya’s fastest growing waste component. In an effort to address solutions to Kenya’s mounting e-waste problems, a National e-Waste Conference and Exhibition was held in Nairobi this month. Focusing on the potential economic and environmental benefits of the responsible management of e-waste, stakeholders discussed ways to reduce the hazards arising from the disposal of electronic equipment in Kenya.
The high rate of e-waste accumulation in Kenya is a results of short product life-cycles, the increasing affordability of electronics, and donations of used electronics from other countries. E-waste is composed of a complex mix of plastics and chemicals, including heavy metals and radioactive elements, which, when not properly handled, can be harmful to human health and the environment.
According to UNEP, Dandora is an unrestricted dumping ground of 30 acres just 8 kilometres from the city of Nairobi, which tends to 2,000 tonnes of newly arrived waste per day, including heavy metals such as lead and mercury often found in electronic waste that makes its way into the soil and contaminates the air.
A UNEP study of 300 schoolchildren near Dandora found that about 50% of them had respiratory problems, and 30% had blood abnormalities signaling heavy-metal poisoning. The World Health Organisation places deaths of children under 5 from environmentally related illnesses worldwide at 4.7 million a year.
“Sustainable management of e-waste can combat poverty and generate green jobs through recycling, collection and processing of e-waste, and safeguard the environment and human health from the hazards posed by rising levels of waste electronics. Smart public policies, creative financial incentives and technology transfer can turn e-waste from a challenge into an important resource for sustainable development,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner.
Finding ways to improve e-waste management has become a priority for the Kenyan government. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) of Kenya has already developed draft E-Waste Management Regulations, which, when gazetted, will provide an appropriate legal and institutional framework and mechanisms for the handling, collection, transportation, recycling and safe disposal of E-waste.
The theme of the national e-waste conference – organised by the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was “Our E-waste, Our Collective Responsibility”. The e-waste conference provided an important forum for stakeholders from every stage of the electronic lifecycle – service providers, manufacturers, distributors, consumers, collectors, dismantlers, recyclers, and regulators – to collectively disucss solutions to Kenya’s e-waste challenge.
“We are confident that this conference will not only play its part in raising awareness about the threats posed by e-waste but also highlight the huge economic opportunities it represents in terms of recycling,’ said Dr. Faridah Were, Senior Research Scientist at KIRDI.