Kenya playing catch-up in e-waste management

Old computers at WEEE Centre
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Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • With the law yet to be passed since 2013 when the Draft E-Waste Regulations were formulated, the amount of e-waste generated per year has continued to grow, making its disposal a major concern.

Kenya has a lot of ground to cover in dealing with electrical and electronic waste, whose volume has been growing exponentially fueled by developments in ICT.

With the law yet to be passed since 2013 when the Draft E-Waste Regulations were formulated, the amount of e-waste generated per year has continued to grow, making its disposal a major concern.

It is estimated that the country currently generates nearly 50,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.

“The huge amount of e-waste in the country is as a result of the exponential growth in the ICT industry, coupled with lack of a clear disposal mechanisms, that has resulted [in a situation where] excessive electronic gadgets that have reached the end of their life cycle are still being held by consumers, businesses or government entities,” the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) says.

The number of Kenyans with mobile phones has grown from about 114,000 two decades ago to 59.8 million, according to CA, which also says internet subscriber numbers have increased from just 200,000 to 43.5 million over the same period.

The number of people using mobile money services has also grown from nine million since its launch to the current 32 million.

“The uptake of these services means acquiring gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets and computers, which must be disposed of at the end of their life cycle. While the growth in the sector has impacted the economy and the common man positively, there are tonnes of e-waste pose health hazards that need to be addressed not only by the national government but also by county governments,” CA’s acting Director -General Mercy Wanjau says.

Little recycling

It is for these reasons that the authority and the Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) held a Consumer Dialogue Forum on E-Waste Management as World Consumer Rights Day was marked on Monday.

“Even after significantly tackling the plastic menace following the ban on non-biodegradable plastics carrier bags, Kenya continues to grapple with the ever-mounting challenge of electronic waste. Like the case with plastics, consumers are increasingly concerned about electronic pollution," Cofek CEO Stephen Mutoro said.

“Some are already taking action. Others are unsure of what to do. Regrettably, this effort is neither supported by a clear policy nor urgency to a collective action between Government, Private sector and the general public."

Of the close to 50,000 tonnes of e-waste generated annually, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Centre, one of the few licensed e-waste recycling companies based in Nairobi, handles just over 2,000 tonnes a year.

Law lacking

WEEE Centre General Manager Boniface Mbithi says they are barely scratching the surface of the growing problem.

The National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) has published guidelines for e-waste disposal but enforcement has been a problem.

There is also the National E-Waste Strategy but it is yet to be signed by Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko.

“The biggest problem is that there is no law, so 99 per cent of the waste is in the environment and stores,” says Mr Mbithi.

“It is thrown into the rivers or buried, and is really chaotic. We have been trying to create awareness and have proper laws in place because the more it takes us to have the law the worse matters will be for the country.”

The lack of a law has also contributed to low citizen awareness, inadequate infrastructure for e-waste management and a high cost of brand new electronics.

Collaboration

At the forum, participants explored collaborative ways to deal with the e-waste menace, key among them being creating awareness, “not only on the threats posed by e-waste but even for potential business opportunities especially on collection and recycling”.

The meeting also explored ways to bring more participants into the e-waste management process.

Also discussed was how to engage commercial banks and other financial institutions in developing incentives and special products of financing private sector players involved in recycling and related mechanisms of e-waste disposal.

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