Eighteen African countries and the UN have agreed on plans to reduce electronic waste, following reports of the rising tide of electronics-related waste in the region.
At last week's meeting of the Pan-African Forum on e-waste in Nairobi, Kenya, representatives of governments and nongovernmental organisations discussed ways to reduce the impact of e-waste. Experts at the forum warned that Africa will generate more e-waste than Europe by 2017 because of the increasing consumption of electronic products, coupled with imports of electronics to Africa.
The forum identified the training of various authorities responsible for monitoring and screening of legal trade of used equipment, as well as the detection and prevention of illegal movement of e-waste, as primary means to reduce e-waste. Through the UN, there will also be the establishment of an EU-Africa enforcement network that will be responsible for tackling e-waste dumping in Africa.
The E-waste forum was organized by the Secretariat on the Basel Convection and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The UN report last month found that 85% of the waste produce in West Africa alone comes from domestic consumption. But the problem is further exacerbated by industrialised nations exporting used electronic equipment that often proves to be unusable and ends up being discarded.
The report singled out the UK as the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and Germany.
Much of the recycling of e-waste that takes place in Africa occurs on an informal basis, often in uncontrolled dumpsites or landfills. The problem is that several African countries do not yet have ICT policies in place to support the establishment of e-waste plants.
In East Africa, only Kenya has an e-waste recycling plant while in Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants.
However, the careless disposal of obsolete electronic equipment can cause significant environmental and health risks. E-waste can contain hazardous substances, including heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and endocrine-disrupting substances such as brominated flame retardants.
"Electronic waste can be a serious public health problem as it has the potential to cause cancer," said Michael Musenga, a Zambian public health prosecutor for Community-Led Total Sanitation who attended the forum last week.
Africa is experiencing increasing imports of ICT equipment but without a corresponding rise in recycling capacity.
According UNEP, although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.
The Zambian government's effort to block the entry of electronic equipment that are unusable at the points of entry have so far not yielded any positive results.