UNEP Backs Action for E-Waste Regulation in East Africa

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Kenya has set forth plans to become the first East African country to regulate the management of electronic waste, following a national conference held at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) this month in Nairobi.

A study released by the American Chemical Society forecasts that obsolete personal computers could reach 700 million in developing regions by 2030. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The meeting featured delegates from Kenya’s Environment Ministry, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), UNEP, Microsoft and the telecommunications industry; and aimed to map a common route forward in dealing with e-waste management in line with the Basel Convention and other international frameworks.

Kenya currently has no specific laws relating directly to e-waste, but the government-backed proposed regulations, which identify the issue of e-waste management as a national priority, would lead to the first legislation in a region largely affecting by the unsafe disposal of e-waste.

Worldwide generation of e-waste is growing by about 40 million tons a year, according to UNEP. The Kenyan Information Communications and Technology Network estimates a mere 3,000 tons of electronic waste is generated in Kenya each year, though that figure is expected to increase with demand for electronic goods.

A 2009 UNEP StEP report, titled “Recycling- From E-Waste to Resources,” examined the formal and informal recycling sectors in 11 countries, including Kenya, classifying the nation as “promising for the introduction of pre-processing technologies with a strong support in capacity building.” This classification was based on current volumes of e-waste and the existence of small formal and informal sectors.

Modern electronics can contain up to 60 different elements, according to UNEP, many of which are valuable for recovery. Although valuable, many of these elements are classified as hazardous to human and environmental health; including lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) among others.

Though e-waste can undoubtedly create enormous human and environmental health risks in the informal sector, the economic opportunity in the formal sector, as well as responsible refurbishment opportunities, creates debate on a grand scale in the world of electronics recycling.

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