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Tackling Nigeria’s e-waste challenge

The latest e-waste report from the United Nations ranks Nigeria as one of the leading countries generating tonnes of e-waste annually. Yet, the country is one of the poorest in terms of management of such wastes, thus raising more health concerns even as the country loses from lack of recycling. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

The last decade has seen exponential growth in the production and consumption of electrical and electronics products globally, thus, raising concerns about the disposal of the discarded and disused products, otherwise known as electronic wastes (e-wastes).
Just as the electronics markets expand and more products are churned out almost at the speed of light, it becomes a more serious challenge for nations to get rid of obsolete electronics, which experts have found detrimental to the environment and human health if not properly disposed of.
In Nigeria, the exponential growth in the use of technology and electronic devices has become both a blessing and a curse with the threats of e-wastes looming large.
The technology rave in the country has seen many dumping old phones to get the latest, as the term ‘upgrade’ becomes trending and most of these devices eventually end up as junk.
A visit to any electronics market such as the popular Computer Village in Lagos, which is otherwise referred to as Nigeria’s technology hub, would paint a clearer picture of the dangerous situation the country has put itself with electronic wastes littering every corner.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the country was reported by the United Nations to have generated the largest amount of e-waste in West Africa in 2019 at 461,000 tonnes, and second in Africa behind Egypt, which generated 585, 800 tonnes.

Worrying trend
With over 190 million mobile subscriptions, Nigeria is no doubt a veritable market for all mobile manufacturers, and it not surprising that the country has become a major destination for new, used, fake, original, and substandard phones from all over the world.
The influx of these mobile devices has become a source of worry for the Nigerian NCC and other stakeholders in the industry.
The regulator fears that the wastes being generated when these devices stop working and are dumped pose a lot of dangers to the health of Nigerians.
Electronic wastes from mobile phones and other electronic devices such as computers and television contain toxic substances that can have an adverse impact on human health and the environment, according to health experts.
Harmful components such as mercury, sulfur, cadmium, beryllium, brominated flame, and lead are found in electronic scraps and these components pose a very deadly threat to humans.
According to NCC’s Head, Standards and Network Integrity, Engr. Bako Wakil, the situation in Nigeria has become more worrisome for the regulator because currently, there is no e-waste management policy in the country.
“We have a lot of these devices coming into the country, some are counterfeits, some are substandard. For those phones, the user is already exposed to a lot of health risks while it is being used. And then when the phone pack up, it is dumped somewhere and that constitutes a health hazard to other people and the environment,” he said.
Wakil observed that about 30 million mobile phones are being sold in Nigeria daily, adding that once they stop working, they add to the existing e-wastes.
However, to minimise the threat, he said NCC would continue to raise awareness on the need for type approval of telecommunications equipment coming into the country. Wakil noted that the type approval of equipment was introduced by the NCC to ensure that only equipment that meets the quality standards are sold in the country.
He, however, regretted that despite the regulatory efforts, there is still an influx of substandard and counterfeited devices into the country. Aside from the Type Approval, he said the country would also need e-waste management policy to ensure that all used electronics are well disposed of.

UN’s report
The United Nations in its 2020 Global E-waste Monitor report observed that a record of 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide last year. This represents a 21 per cent increase over the past five years. In per capita terms, last year’s discarded e-waste averaged 7.3 kg for every man, woman, and child on earth.
According to the UN report, e-waste is the fastest-growing domestic waste stream worldwide and will hit 74 million metric tonnes by 2030. In 2019, only 17.4 percent of e-waste was collected and recycled. This means that a conservatively estimated USD 57 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, platinum, and other high-value, recoverable materials were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse.
The report said Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste (24.9 Mt), followed by the Americas (13.1), Europe (12), Africa (2.9), and Oceania (0.7).
However, Europe ranked first in terms of e-waste generation per capita, with 16.2 kg per capita. Oceania came second (16.1 kg) followed by the Americas (13.3 kg), Asia (5.6 kg), and Africa (2.5 kg).
Interestingly, while Nigeria was cited in the report as one of the few African countries with e-waste policy as of 2019, the country had no record of recycling in the year.
While the country generated the largest amount of e-waste in West Africa and second-largest in the entire African continent it was said to have no formal system of e-waste recycling, unlike South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Namibia, and Rwanda, who are said to have some facilities in place for that purpose.
“On the other hand, sizeable countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana are still very reliant on informal recycling. A study conducted in Nigeria shows that approximately 60,000-71,000 tonnes of used electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) were imported annually into Nigeria through the two main ports in Lagos in 2015 and 2016.
It was found that most of the imported used e-waste was shipped from developed countries such as Germany, UK, Belgium, the USA, etc. Additionally, a basic functionality test showed that, on average, at least 19 per cent of devices were non-functional,” the UN stated in the report.
The report notes that e-waste management in Africa is dominated by thriving informal sector collectors and recyclers in most countries; neither organised take-back systems nor license provisions for sorting and dismantling e-waste exist.
“Government control of this sector is currently very minimal and inefficient. The handling of e-waste is often processed in backyards by manual stripping to remove electronic boards for resale, open burning of wires to recover few major components (e.g. copper, aluminum, and iron), and the deposition of other bulk components, including CRTs, in open dumpsites,” it stated.
The UN in the report added that though Nigeria and a few other African countries now have a policy on e-waste, the enforcement has been a problem.

Last line
Although the Nigerian Communications Commission had put in place an e-waste regulation last year, it applies to only manufacturers of mobile phones and other telecommunications equipment.
It, therefore, behooves on the Federal Government to adopt a holistic approach that will not only see to proper management of all e-wastes but also ensuring proper recycling to turn the wastes into wealth for the country.

 

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