Kenya Faces an E-Waste Time Bomb
The world is consuming more and more electronic products every year and the amount of electronic waste discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tonnes generated every year! This has caused a dangerous explosion in electronic scrap (e-waste) containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled safely. But this problem can be avoided with the help of electronic consumers and manufacturers. Greenpeace International is at the forefront in pressing leading electronic companies to change; to turn back the toxic tide of e-waste.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of old computers and mobile phones are dumped in landfills or burned in smelters. Thousands more are exported, often illegally, from the Europe, US, Japan and other industrialized countries, to Asia and Africa. There, workers at scrap yards, some of whom are children, are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals and poisons.
In its October 2005 report, “The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-use and Abuse to Africa,” the Basel Action Network found that e-wastes are entering African port cities such as Lagos, Mombasa, Dar es Salaam, and Cairo in shiploads. Collecting information for that report, witnesses saw huge piles of e-waste throughout the Nigerian countryside. “We saw people using e-waste to fill in swamps,” Puckett recalls. “Whenever the piles got too high, they would torch them.” Residents complained about breathing the toxic fumes, but the dumps were never cleaned up. “We saw kids roaming barefoot over this material, not to mention chickens and goats,” which are later eaten by residents.
The situation at home in Kenya is reaching crisis proportions, the notorious Dandora Dumpsite in Nairobi’s Eastlands area, is choking with electronic waste ranging from obsolete television sets, computers, and fridges to mobile phones and batteries – all containing highly toxic substances. Residents surrounding the area risk contracting cancer, respiratory and skin diseases due to poisonous by-products namely lead, cadmium and mercury from electronic waste. Apart from waste discarded by Kenyans, the country also received hundreds of container loads of e-waste each month from developing countries disguised as ‘donations’.
Although there are environmental laws in Kenya that hold to account those generating toxic waste, and with the failure to comply with waste disposal standards carrying a penalty of Sh500,000 or a prison term of 18 months, Kenya faces continues to face environmental and health problems due to indiscriminate, unregulated and trade in dumping of harmful electronic waste. The prospects of this threat is made worse when one considers that Kenya is at the verge of an IT revolution and the mobile phone industry is currently at more than seven million active lines.
The rate at which these mountains of obsolete electronic products are growing will reach crisis proportions unless electronics corporations that make mega profits from making and selling these devices face up to their responsibilities. It is possible to make clean, durable products that can be upgraded, recycled, or disposed of safely and don’t end up as hazardous waste in third word country’s dumpsites.
In order to keep Kenya at the forefront in fighting this problem, please read and discover more about e-waste and it has evolved to be the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream because manufacturers are developing products that have a shorter lifespan.
Also read and understand what happens after electronic waste is thrown away and how they end up in Nairobi, Lagos and other third world countries.
Greenpeace International have also released their ‘Guide to Greener Electronics’ which ranks 14 top manufacturers of computers and mobile phones according to their policies on toxic chemicals and recycling. That is a must read before you buy your next mobile phone or computer. Readers may also take their time to read suggested solutions to this worldwide problem and what you can personally do in order to alleviate this problem that is apparently hurting the poor, especially children.