According to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Africa’s e-waste challenges have long been documented, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), previously stating that instead of being recycled in the Western countries, the waste is being shipped to the continent where it accumulates in toxic dumps.

This comes to light just as the world marked the yearly, World Environment Day. ITU data showed the continent’s e-waste recycling rate pales in comparison to other continents. For example, Asia is shown to recycle 11.07 per cent, while the Americas recycles 9.4 per cent of their e-waste.

As a result, the UN specialised agency has reiterated the Connect 2030 Agenda, which calls for global e-waste recycling rate to increase to 30 per cent by 2023, and the percentage of countries with e-waste legislation to be raised by 50 per cent. ITU also noted that while total collected and recycled e-waste was recorded at 20 per cent in 2016, the rate declined to 17.4 per cent in 2019.

A UNEP report showed that Nigeria’s piles of e-waste come both from home and abroad, and generated about 290,000 tonnes of electronic waste in 2017 – a 170 per cent increase against 2009. This is even as the country remains a major recipient of used electronics from abroad.

While the true amount of overseas-generated waste landing in Nigeria is hard to quantify, United Nations University research has revealed more than 60,000 tonnes of used electrical and electronic equipment are shipped into the country annually via Lagos ports alone, with an unknown amount imported overland routes from neighbouring countries. It noted that more than 25 per cent of this is dead on arrival – heading straight to dumps or dismantling.

ITU said, “The growth in demand for connectivity is increasing the amount of e-waste generated. Our devices contain many valuable materials, often extracted at considerable human and financial cost. The global e-waste recycling rate was estimated to stand at only 20 per cent of e-waste in 2016, despite rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium and other high-value recoverable materials in many ICT devices and equipment. Consumers must become more aware of the carbon footprint and loss of valuable materials associated with the use of online apps and services.”

Founder of e-waste collecting company, Closing the Loop, which is an ITU member, Joost de Kluijver, revealed that of five factories that can recycle mobile phone e-waste, none are in Africa. “For a continent with an explosive growth of the mobile industry, this creates a serious problem. Millions of phones become obsolete with no ways to recycle them,” De Kluijver stated.

In terms of e-waste legislation, the ITU highlights that in 2017, 67 countries had e-waste legislation in place. “All countries should have national e-waste legislation and an action plan to deal with e-waste, listing their national goals and objectives in relation to e-waste and recycling, and how to go about protecting the environment and natural resources in the face of increasing scarcity of resources.”

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