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E-waste: Importing death through used electronics

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E-waste: Importing death through used electronics

Experts have said that some used electronics coming into the country from the United States of America (USA), European and Asian countries contained chemicals which could induce skin diseases, damage the nervous system, kidneys and respiratory organs, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports

 

In the last three years, eight countries have consistently used Nigerian market as a dumping ground for Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment (UEEE).

The used electronic products, which are nearing the end of their usefulness, are being imported into the country on a weekly basis despite the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to international treaties, such as the Basel Convention regulating import and management of e-waste which opposes UEEE.

Sharp practice

It was learnt that about 5,110 containers of the electronic waste arrived at Lagos and Tincan Island ports yearly from Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, Spain, China, United States and Belgium amid false declarations.

In some cases, the importers label their goods to avoid paying the right Customs levies or duties.

More than 80 per cent of the importers are located in the Lagos area.

Findings revealed that at least 15,400 tons of television sets, computer monitors and photocopiers, which are shipped into the country, have outlived their usefulness as the enforcement of the legislations which can curb the importation is weak in the country.

Trend

Of the estimated containers imported yearly, it was learnt that Ireland accounts for 6 per cent of the total imports, while Germany accounts for 20 per cent. Other are: UK (19.5 per cent), Belgium (9.4 per cent), The Netherland (8.2 per cent), Spain (7.4 per cent), China (7.3 per cent) and USA (7.3 per cent).

Appliances

Some of the used electronics include LCD televisions, computer monitors, CRTTVs and monitors, photocopiers, desktop computers, speakers, printers, DVD players, laptops, VCDs, radios, mobile phones and stereo equipment, musical instruments, audio players and consumer electronic. Others are household goods like refrigerators, washing machines, electrical cookers, microwave ovens, blenders, pressing irons, electric fans, and electric kettles, air conditioners.

Under the provisions of the Basel Convention, imports of non-functional UEEE into Nigeria are illegal as they contain hazardous substances injurious to human health.

 

Health implication

Speaking on the dangers of using old electronics such as computers, especially those with many circuit boards, electronics, Mr. Emeka Nwabueze explained in Lagos that some used electronics contained up to 3.6 kilogrammes of lead, along with lower levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and other toxic chemicals which, according to him, are all toxic at varying exposure levels.

According to him, poisonous flame-retardant chemicals used in most electronics are also injurious to human health.

He explained that the toxic heavy metals found in some electronics were lead and tin, barium, mercury, copper, brominated flame retardants, antimony, cadmium, and beryllium.

Nwabueze noted that this was one of the reasons some of the used items were displaced outside the shops. According to him, mercury can damage vital human organs like brain and kidneys.

He added that it was unusual to see new electronic items displaced or exposed to sunlight.

The engineer said that hazardous chemicals and toxic substances in appliances were also known to cause health problems.

According to him, functional systems in the body, such as immune system, digestive system, reproductive system, central nervous system face the risk of hazardous chemical absorbed from discarded appliance.

The Managing Director of Olorunwa Electronics, Mr. Gboyega Ali, explained that some brominated flame retardants used in circuit boards and plastic casings were dangerous to health. According to him, they do not break down easily and build up in the environment.

Ali added that long-term exposure could lead to impaired learning and memory functions.

He said: “I don’t store used electronics in my shop because of the emission coming out as result of heat.”

Also, a Computer Engineer, Daniel Chukwudi, who lives at Egbeda, Lagos, said the cathode ray tubes in monitors contained lead which, according to him, is dangerous to nervous system.

 

Chukwudi said frequent exposure to lead could cause injury in children and could damage the nervous, blood and reproductive systems in adults.

The engineer added that cadmium used in rechargeable computer batteries, contacts and switches was highly toxic to kidneys and bones.

He said: “The mercury, used in lighting devices for flat-screen displays, could also affect brain and sensitive organs in the body. Most roadside electronics or sellers of used appliances are frequently victims because some of them did not know the health implication of what they are selling.

“Most of the used electrical appliances are usually from Europe and America. Unlike in Nigeria, people there are already aware of the health implication because of the level of awareness there.”

In Nigeria, according to him, health problems are most prevalent when e-waste workers have direct occupational exposure to some discarded electronics.

Despite the risks associated with informal e-waste recycling, the computer engineer said there was generally low awareness of the environmental and health risks associated with e-waste.

Chukwudi blamed government agencies for lack of awareness on health implication of some used electronics.

He added that used materials were usually picked at the dumpsites by their importers.

Chukwudi said it was cheaper to bring them to the country.

He lamented that importation of the used appliances would continue unless the country could give incentives to electronics firms to established in Nigeria.

The engineer added that in the past, there were electronics companies such as Philips, Panasonic, Adebowale Electrical Industries with quality product and huge patronage from the citizens.

Chukwudi said the companies went under because of the economic situation in the country.

He identified chlorinated plastic used in some electronics products and insulation on wires and cables as dangerous component in electrical appliances.

Chukwudi said when they were released or disposed, the chemicals were highly persistent in the environment and were toxic even in very low concentrations.

Imports traffic

Meanwhile, a study by PiP has revealed that Lagos Port Complex and Tincan Island Port took delivery of imported 5,110 containers laden with UEEE between 2015 and 2016.

Trade statistics

The firm report presented to the Federal Government in a workshop in May 2017 noted that LCD-TVs and monitors account for around 18 per cent of the UEEE imports, followed by CRTTVs and monitors with around 14 per cent.

It added that televisions and monitors had a share of more than 30 per cent in the total UEEE imports, while photocopiers have 13 per cent, desktop computers (seven per cent), speakers (six per cent), printers (five per cent), DVD players (four per cent), laptops (three per cent), VCDs (one per cent), radios (0.7per cent), mobile phones (0.3 per cent) stereo equipment (0.1 per cent), musical instruments (0.2 per cent) and audio players (0.7 per cent) together account for slightly more than 40per cent of all imported UEEE.

It said Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and consumer electronic devices stand for around 70 per cent of the UEEE imports.

The report said that large and small household goods such as refrigerators contain 11 per cent; conditioners contribute (six per cent), washing machines (six per cent), electrical cookers (0.4 per cent) as well as microwave ovens, blenders, pressing irons, electric fans, and electric kettles together account for four per cent, in total represent roughly 21 per cent of the imports.

The study further revealed that China is leading in the export of UEEE in containers with 24 per cent, followed by the United States (20 per cent), Spain (12 per cent) and the United Kingdom (nine per cent).

It added that 29 per cent of UEEE imports in containers are exported from ports located in European Union member states.

As for UEEE imports in containers, the firm explained that China is the largest exporter with 44 per cent, followed by the United Kingdom, eight per cent; United States, six per cent; Spain 5.1per cent and Hong Kong, five per cent.

It stressed that the EU countries exported 24 per cent of the appliances into Nigeria, while it added that United States led with 32 per cent of the exports of UEEE in containers with vehicles followed by Spain, 19 per cent; United Kingdom, nine per cent; China, six per cent and Morocco, five per cent.

Meanwhile, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency regulation had mandated every importer to have a Cargo Movement Requirement (CMR) document, evidence of evaluation and a protocol containing all record information but the regulation is not enforced as importers preferred to label such goods as household goods or personal effects.

For instance, it was revealed by the firm that more than 60 per cent of the UEEE imported in containers was declared in official paperwork to be household goods or personal effects, noting that UEEE imported in used vehicles was mostly undeclared.

By weight, it was said that LCD-TVs and flat panel monitors made up the largest category 18 per cent of imported UEEE, while the second largest category -CRT-TVs and CRT-monitors which contained 14 per cent were formally banned from importation.

Photocopying machines made up 13 per cent, refrigerators (12 per cent), desktop CPUs (seven per cent), air conditioners, speakers and washing machines, six per cent each, printers (five per cent) and DVDs (four per cent).

The PiP report also noted that the registered importers accounted for just 75 of the 2,145 UEEE imports in containers, which is around three per cent of the total number of imports.

The weight of the UEEE imports by the importers amounted to around 7,110 tons between 2015 and 2016, which is about 3.9 per cent of the 18,300 tons of UEEE imported in containers.

The firm noted that this had pointed to a high degree of non-compliance with regulations, even more so when considering that much UEEE was not declared correctly or completely undeclared.

The two years study of the Used Electrical and Electronic Equipment (UEEE) by the firm also revealed a continuing severe problem of non-compliance with international and national rules governing such shipments.

The PiP observed from NPA shipment manifests that some of the companies licensed by NESREA to import UEEE were also importing UEEE in containerised vehicles, as well as importing vehicles only.

 

 

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