Choking Under E-Waste

July 13th, 2010   Teddy Odindo

Sales of electronic products in Kenya and other African countries have risen sharply over the last decade. These days, I often find it cheaper and more convenient to buy a new PC or mobile phone than to upgrade an old one. Additionally, the laying of fiber optic cable in Kenya has drastically reduced the cost of communication for majority of people to afford. Today it’s trendy to have the latest electronic gadget but with the new technology most of these gadgets, even in the developing world becoming obsolete in less than 6 years. What then, will happen to those old computers, television sets, refrigerators,  printers, I-pods, digital cameras, electronic toys, and  mobile phones once they’ve been abandoned (often in our houses) for newer models?

The outcome of this high-tech revolution has been pure poison. E-waste products in the developing world are being improperly disposed of at the end of their useful life. It is estimated that an average computer can contain up to 1,000 toxins, including lead, arsenic, selenium, antimony, cobalt, chromium cadmium and mercury that contaminate the environment and act as precursors of cancer, damaged nervous system, brain and kidneys.

How many of us have ever thought of discarding that old TV set or computer that crowds your house  by giving it to that guy who does the garbage collection rounds in your estate? The refuse from discarded electronics products, also known as e-waste, often ends up in back-street alleys of Nairobi being scavenged for reusable parts; “juakali recycling”.  If not, the products would be found at the infamous Dandora dumpsite, the largest refuse dump in Nairobi that receives 2,000 tons of fresh waste day.

Many African countries will be grappling under environmental health problems associated with e-waste ‘juakali recycling’ in the informal sector if new approaches are not taken. Reality requires that we segregate, collect and recycle e-waste material appropriately. If not then the significant risk of exposure to workers and communities will continue to pose environmental, human health and human rights challenges across Africa.

In Kenya and other developing countries in Africa, organizations dedicated to using Information and communication technology to deliver education, use thousands of recycled devices to empower generations. A worthy mention would be Camara, a volunteer based organization that refurbish used computers and set them up as learning centers in schools in Africa and Ireland. In a classic example of turning waste to wealth, Computer for Schools Kenya (CFSK) a Non Governmental Organization, dismantles computers into metals, wires, plastic, aluminum, copper, monitors and electronic boards which are then sold separately. CFSK also converts the monitors into television sets by replacing its boards with those of televisions. So next time you or your organization thinks of disposing those old computers, pagers, refrigerators and mobile phones, think Camara and Computer for Schools Kenya.

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