Africa e-waste pilot project shows promise

Posted by Laura Grant on February 18, 2009
Posted in Business

The first results of a pilot project to tackle the problem of electronic waste (e-waste) in Africa were released this week.

This initiative was carried out in South Africa, Morocco and Kenya and has produced information on how African governments, organisations and society are dealing with the rising problem of e-waste management, as well as test solutions on the way forward.

The project – a joint initiative of IT company HP, the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) – aims to assess and improve the management of e-waste in Africa so as to generate jobs in the informal recycling sector.

The main focus of the pilot project, an e-waste recycling facility in the Cape Town suburb of Maitland, processed about 60 tonnes of electronic equipment, generated an income of around $14,000 (R140,000) from February to November 2008 and created direct employment for 19 people, the project partners said in a press release.

The facility concentrates on low-tech and labour-intensive material dismantling and recovery. Its aim is to refurbish, repair and reuse IT equipment, with environmentally responsible dismantling and recycling only as a last resort. Some non-toxic e-waste is turned into art (see pictures here).

“Our research has … demonstrated some of the incredible entrepreneurial skills we can tap into in the informal sector in Africa,” said project manager and Empa researcher Mathias Schluep.

“By providing tools and training we have removed potential environmental and health problems that can be caused by handling e-waste incorrectly. What’s more, we have created a channel to full employment for creative minds in the informal sector.”

Cisse Kane from the DSF said: “Information technology represents a real opportunity to boost the African economy, but the question of what we do with old equipment once it no longer works is an important one. This project has helped us move some way to closing the loop by providing a model for safe and efficient treatment and disposal of e-waste.”

Assessment studies were carried out in Morocco and Kenya. These “provided a clear picture of the e-waste management landscape in those countries, particularly on the legislation in place, local awareness and behaviour, infrastructural needs and total amount of waste generated”, said the statement.

Kenya, for example, is producing 3,000 tonnes of e-waste per year, with an increase of 200 percent per year, but there is a clear lack of legislative framework and practical e-waste management systems, the study found.

The information and experience gathered in this project, which also included contributions from local organisations and NGOs, will support the launch of the second phase of the project, which aims at engaging corporate and government partners to extend e-waste management programmes to other countries and tackle the problem of e-waste in the entire continent.

“HP has a responsibility that starts with the design of a product and goes right through to its disposal and we take that responsibility very seriously,” commented Klaus Hieronymi, director, environmental business management, HP EMEA. “We see these projects in Africa as both providing employment opportunities for local communities and as a step towards a sustainable solution for tackling electronic waste in Africa.”

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