Mombasa firm seeks to recycle Kenya's e-waste

ICT Chief Administrative Secretary Nadia Abdallah during a visit to the Close The Gap offices

ICT Chief Administrative Secretary Nadia Abdallah (right) during a visit to the Close The Gap offices in Nyali, Mombasa County. Close The Gap is making use of e-waste by refurbishing devices which are not absolute as a means to create income for the youth and conserve the environment.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

The increasing use of technology has seen thousands of information technology (IT) devices finding their way into Kenya, and with poor disposal, they put lives at risk and contribute to global warming.

Though Kenya is a signatory to international treaties regulating and banning the dumping of damaged and end-of-life electronics, it still imports large quantities of electronic and electrical goods that are considered too inefficient to be sold in the country of origin.

The appliances enter Kenya legally and a tax is paid to customs for their clearance.

After a few months of use, the devices become obsolete, and most users dispose of them at dumpsites without considering the dangers of the e-waste and the risks they will incur if information stored in the devices lands in the wrong hands.

Launched in 2019 before Covid-19 struck, Close the Gap Group seeks to make use of the e-waste and refurbish devices that are usable so as to create income for young people and conserve the environment.

Kenya generates an average of 3,000 tonnes of e-waste each year from electronic devices such as computers, monitors, printers, mobile phones, fridges and batteries, said Timothy Wachira, operations manager at the Circular Economy HUB in Jomvu.

The hub strives to ensure laptops that can be refurbished are resold in the market as a means to reduce e-waste, he said.

"At the Jomvu hub, our state-of-the-art IT asset disposition facility, we assemble computer components, mobile devices, spare parts, and other tech devices into affordable 'made in Kenya' circular computer devices. In the facility, we provide sustainable solutions for used IT devices," he said.

A trained team registers the assets received, such as mobile phones, tablets desktops, servers and network equipment that are beyond repair, and tags them to help to track devices until they are disposed of.

Some of the refurbished Computers and laptops that are for sale at the Close the Gap

Some of the refurbished Computers and laptops that are for sale at the Close the Gap offices at Ratna Square, in Nyali, Mombasa County.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

"We use sophisticated and advanced software to wipe data in the devices such as user names, passcodes and passwords,” Mr Wachira said.

“In case the device is beyond economical repair, it is taken to recyclers, where they shred any type of data carriers to ensure total destruction of data in any device so that it does not land in the wrong hands."

Close the Gap founder Olivier Eynde said only about one percent of the e-waste generated in Kenya is properly disposed of.

"There has been an increasing demand for disposal of e-waste since it has its negative effects on the environment, thus influencing climate change. The poor disposal often leads to water and soil pollution, whereas burning it leads to air pollution," Mr Olivier said.

The Jomvu computer hub has employed 25 youth, 10 interns and about 50 other workers who train young people how to refurbish old IT devices, he said.

Those that are beyond repair are disposed of according to National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) requirements.

The company refurbishes about 2,000 laptops per month, which are resold at their Ratna Square shop in Nyali at affordable prices.

Mr Olivier said more companies and Kenyans at large need to be conscious about the environment and how they treat it.

He said there is little being done to educate the public about increasing e-waste, which ends up being mixed with ordinary waste at dumpsites and landfills.

"There is a need to increase electronic recycling in Kenya and in Africa at large,” he said.

Statistics show that Africa recycles less than 0.1 percent of e-waste yearly, while Asia recycles 11.07 percent and the Americas 9.4 percent.